Rask, B's must solve closeout woes

May, 24, 2013
5/24/13
7:47
PM ET
BOSTON -- Claude Julien likened the Bruins' performance in Thursday's overtime loss to one of those days at the office you'd like to forget. Maybe you didn't get enough sleep and awoke groggy, dropped your breakfast in your lap and got stuck in a traffic jam -- all before 9 a.m.

[+] EnlargeTuukka Rask
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesTuukka Rask gets another chance to burnish his playoff credentials in Game 5.
"You try, right? You muscle through," Julien said.

The coach posited that hockey players and hockey games are governed by the same universal laws. Sometimes you get caught out of position, sometimes bounces go the wrong way, etc.

Such is life, right?

"I know you're not always great at your job sometimes," Julien teased reporters to a chorus of laughs after Friday's practice at TD Garden.

We'd all like to think we're better than our worst days, but there's a caveat when exploring such occurrences in regard to the Bruins' recent playoff track record. Those ugly sorts of days have appeared when the Bruins could ill afford to chalk one up in the postseason -- particularly when playing from ahead in a series.

Including the historic collapse against Philadelphia in 2010, the Bruins have posted a 6-11 record in playoff games in which they could win a series. With Thursday's overtime loss to the Rangers, they are 1-3 in such instances this year.

The numbers become more alarming when considering just the sample of games in which Tuukka Rask has started in net. Rask carries a 2-8 record in closeout games, as compared with a 12-2 career mark in all other playoff tilts.

Not surprisingly, Rask's vital stats are considerably stronger in non-closeout games. In the 14 non-closeout matchups, he sports a 1.98 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage. On the flip side, Rask has a sub-.900 save percentage (.890) with a GAA of 3.20 in potential closeout games.

As far as Thursday's performance was concerned, Rask called the team's play just "good enough to lose." He added that it wasn't anything systemic or anything that couldn't be fixed.

"It wasn't anything structurewise or we didn't play our style of hockey, it was just mental breakdowns," Rask said after Friday's skate. "Especially in the playoffs, you can't have those if you want to win."

Maybe it's a lack of a killer instinct, or the other side simply being hungrier; either way, Rask acknowledged that his team needs to play to the occasion.

"When teams are facing elimination, it's kind of a 'screw this, let's go out there and play' attitude," Rask said. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. We just need to match the desperation level of the team we're facing and not being too tight and squeezing our sticks too tight and just playing the game."

Julien rated Thursday's performance as "OK." He later added that just "OK" isn't enough to win playoff hockey games.

On the other hand, Rask looked past Thursday's shortcomings.

"If you don't look at those mistakes, it was a pretty decent game," he added.

He's right -- to an extent. But the difference comes in the follow-up. There's a big difference between letting a sliver of light through a cracked door for a team that looked lifeless. It's an entirely other thing to let that team come barging through.

Been there, done that.

"A lot of our play was just OK," Julien said, "so we need to be good. That's what we're aiming for [Saturday]. We've proven along the series that we can be good and consistent.

"We've just got to be good and bounce back tomorrow."

Scott Barboza

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
Scott Barboza joined ESPNBoston.com as a high schools editor/reporter in May 2010. He spent the previous three seasons working in the New England Patriots media relations department after a stint at the Taunton Daily Gazette, where he covered everything from Little League baseball to the Boston Red Sox.

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