Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy doesn’t mince words when it comes to his goaltenders.
If he doesn’t like what he’s seeing in Boston’s crease, he’ll call it out almost always, often without prompting.
And usually the Bruins goaltenders respond to the words.
So after the Bruins lost to Nashville 4-3 in overtime Dec. 21, Cassidy didn’t shy away from letting everyone know he wasn’t pleased with Jaroslav Halak, who had just allowed more than three goals in a start for the first time in nine games.
“I believe we have two No. 1s in there,” Cassidy said, referring to Halak and Tuukka Rask, “but those were three goals that were very saveable. Pucks that probably shouldn’t end up in your net.”
One puck went off a Boston player’s stick. Another went into an empty net after Halak tried to challenge the attacking player out at the top of the circles, a play Cassidy said he had no problem with.
Justified or not, Cassidy’s message obviously got through. Patrice Bergeron scored two goals, Brandon Carlo and Zdeno Chara had monster games at the defensive end, but the Bruins would not have survived playing without Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy in Buffalo on Friday were it not for the play of Halak.
The 34-year-old made 26 saves, including 11 in the first period, for a 3-0 win, his third shutout of the season and 50th of his career.
With the Bruins struggling to move the puck out of their own end in the first period – something to be expected when two of a team’s best puck-movers are on the shelf with injuries – Halak was on his toes. He robbed former Bruins teammate Marcus Johansson with an outstanding glove save at 16:23 of the first period to preserve a 0-0 tie.
Three minutes later Bergeron’s goal actually gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead that they took to the first intermission.
In the third period it was more of the same. Carlo (25:54), Chara (21:48) and Matt Grzelcyk (20:53) were taxed in terms of ice time, as Cassidy was less trusting of the likes of John Moore and Steven Kampfer. And the puck management by Boston’s defense, and the forwards, allowed the Sabres plenty of attack-zone time and 10 shots on net. A better offensive team would’ve probably evened the score before Carlo’s empty-net goal, if it hadn’t already held the lead by cashing in during the first period.
Halak, however, wasn’t the only Bruins goalie to make Cassidy eat his words this week. The shutout performance bookended the Christmas break with Rask’s 39-save showing in the 7-3 win over Washington on Monday. Previously Rask made 19 saves in a 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Islanders.
Those two strong Rask games followed a four-goals-on-27-shots loss to Los Angeles, which prompted Cassidy to say that night: “you expect certain key saves at key times.”
Well the Bruins got the key saves from Rask in his next two starts. And Halak made every shot from Buffalo into a “saveable” one Friday.
The coach has the magic tongue. And the Bruins have the magical pair of goaltenders – 2.44 goals allowed per game – helping them stay near the top of the NHL standings despite injuries and inconsistent secondary scoring.