Boston Bruins goaltending crumbles during semifinal series against Tampa Bay Lightning

Boston Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak (41) makes a save against Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18) as Bruins’ David Pastrnak (88) looks on during third-period NHL Stanley Cup Eastern Conference playoff hockey game action in Toronto, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. Photo by Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press via AP.

After Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Boston Bruins are now down 3-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Since the departure of Tuukka Rask from the bubble in Toronto, the Bruins have experienced nothing but constant struggles against the Lightning’s offense with neither Bruins backup Jaroslav Halak nor Providence Bruins goaltender Dan Vladar being able to perform at the same level. The consistent theme of the series since Game 1 has been Boston being unable to defend their crease, putting extreme pressure on their goaltending talent.  

Halak spent much of the 2019-2020 season playing in tandem with Rask for Boston, with Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy switching the two out every game. During the regular season, neither goalie outshined the other and both put up good, consistent numbers while in the crease. The pair earned the 2019-2020 William M. Jennings Trophy, annually awarded to the goaltender(s) that allowed the fewest goals scored against in the league. Halak ended the 2019-2020 regular season with 31 games played, 18 of those being Boston wins. He earned a goals against average of 2.39 and a respectable .919% save percentage. During the postseason series with the Carolina Hurricanes, Halak also performed well following the departure of Rask, playing in the final three Bruins victories over Carolina.  

Vladar put up similarly impressive numbers while playing with Boston’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Providence Bruins. During the 2019-2020 season Vladar played 25 games and let in 42 goals, earning a 1.79 goals against average and a .936% save percentage; leading the league in both statistics. He was ranked as the third most promising goalie prospect in the AHL in April in an independent NHL report by Patrick Williams. Before the series ended early due to the AHL canceling operations because of the coranavirus pandemic, Vladar won his first playoff appearance, letting in two goals over 60 minutes of ice time.  

Even with the absence of Rask from the lineup, the Bruins have two very competent goaltenders at their disposal, which makes the last few games against the Lightning all the more disappointing. In Game 3 of the series, which also served as Vladar’s NHL debut, the Bruins let in seven goals to the Lightning’s one. If the Bruins want to have any hope of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals, the first thing that needs to change is the work put in by their goaltending talent. Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is arguably the best ice hockey goaltender in the world right now, so Boston cannot simply rely on the team’s experienced offensive lines to outscore the other team. Unless Vladar and Halak see significant improvement in the games scheduled for this week, Boston has no chance of lifting up the Stanley Cup.  

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