Picard: Defending Tuukka Rask

Only three goalies in the NHL have played in more games this season than Rask

If Tuukka Rask could have played, he would have played.

Not just Saturday night in Brooklyn. But also last year against Ottawa.

Those are the two games currently being used as ammo by Rask's biggest critics right now. They say he "bailed" on the team in the two biggest games of the last two seasons. In the process, they're questioning his toughness.

Take my opinions on the situation for what you believe they're worth. But I'm telling you, if Rask could have played, he would have -- in both of those games.

For the sake of timeliness, let's stick with Saturday's game against the Islanders. It was a must-win -- all of them are at this point. And Rask could not play because of a lower-body injury, just two nights after getting lit up by the Tampa Bay Lightning at home.

That performance was not a good look for Rask. And afterwards, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy called him out.

Cassidy was right. Rask needs to be better than that. Even Rask himself acknowledged such after the 6-3 loss. Because with just seven games remaining on the schedule -- entering Tuesday's game against Nashville -- the Bruins are on the playoff bubble.

If the playoffs began today, they'd be the final Wild Card team in the Eastern Conference. But what Rask's critics will fail to mention is that, without Rask, the Bruins wouldn't even be in a playoff race. It's the same Rask who suffered a lower-body injury in the first game of the season, forcing him to miss the second game of the season just two nights later. Rask played the following two games, but then missed the next three, giving him only four starts in the team's eight games during the month of October.

Clearly, Rask has been playing banged-up all season long. And for the most part, I'd like to stress the word "playing."

When you miss four of the first eight games due to a lower-body injury and then go on to record 25 of the team's 26 wins in the first four months of the season, all while putting up some of the best numbers in the league out of any goaltender, that has to be worth something, right? Because it's not like the injury just magically healed and went away for good. And it's obviously something that's still affecting him to this day.

Unless you believe that Rask just isn't tough. You think a random cramp popped up and he tried to stretch it out and just decided to tell the team that he was sitting out Saturday's game, even though it wasn't something that affected him all that much.

At that point, you'd be telling me Rask isn't a competitor. And I'm here to tell you that notion is preposterous.

Rask has played 59 games this season. Only three goalies in the NHL have played in more games than him. With 33 wins, he needs just four more to set a new career high.

Has he been over-used? And if so, is that the reason he's still dealing with a lower-body injury? Well, put it this way, regardless of that answer, it's not like he or the Bruins really had a choice.

I understand that Anton Khudobin has won his last five starts, with the most recent coming in a 2-1 win over the Islanders on Saturday night. But from October through January, Khudobin lost six of the seven games he started and was allowing just over three goals per game.

To put it frankly, Khudobin was brutal. That's why he was placed on waivers in January, and why nobody in the league decided to claim him, which ultimately resulted in Khudobin remaining in the organization. In fact, he didn't pick up his second win of the season until Feb. 11. And to that point, it was only the second win out of the Bruins' 28 wins that Rask was not in net for.

That's a pretty incredible stat. And a large enough sample size where it's safe to say Rask was has been the team's only goaltending hope this season, all while battling a lower-body injury he suffered in the first game of the season.

Still, there are some questioning Rask's toughness and even calling for the Bruins to stick with Khuddobin for the rest of the season. And you have to be some kind of crazy to actually want to see that.

If Rask can play, he will play. And if he's able to play, I'm willing to bet he leads the Bruins back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Listen to “The Danny Picard Show” at dannypicard.com, iTunes, and Google Play. Danny can also be heard weekends on WEEI 93.7 FM. Follow him on Twitter @DannyPicard.

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