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It’s become the Tuukka Rask series for Bruins

The Boston Bruins are one win away from reaching their first Eastern Conference Final since the 2012-13 season.

If they get there by beating the Columbus Blue Jackets in one of the next two games (Game 6, Monday night, 7 p.m. ET, on NBCSN) the play of starting goalie Tuukka Rask is going to be one of the big reasons.

I’ve written about Rask and his postseason performance and reputation in the past, and it is still incredible to see how underappreciated he has been. His career postseason numbers compare favorably to any other goalie in NHL history. He has taken his team to the Stanley Cup Final in the past, and a career .925 save percentage over 77 postseason games is nothing to just write off or overlook. It is a significant sampling of games, and he has been — for the most part — great in those games.

Still, there always seems to be this mindset in Boston — and even outside of Boston — where a large group of people are just waiting for him to fail so he can be the player to take the blame.  It’s almost as if it only counts as a “big game” for Rask if he plays poorly in it. The ones where he plays well never seem to get mentioned, and based on his career postseason numbers, he has had a lot of games where he has played at a championship caliber level. If you want to base a goalie’s entire reputation based on what happens in a handful of individual games that you have randomly chosen as important ones, that is on you and you could use that mindset to cut down every goalie in the league. Only one of them is going to end their season with a “W.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Another way of putting it: Rask has been really good in the playoffs from a big picture outlook, and the big picture matters. This is worth pointing out because a) it doesn’t get pointed out enough with him, and b) even with that he is still playing some of his best hockey right now for the Bruins in this series.

On Monday Bruins defender Charlie McAvoy called Rask the team’s “best player” against the Blue Jackets and he wouldn’t be wrong in saying so.

Over the first five games against the Blue Jackets Rask has a .936 save percentage, a number that is outstanding even for the standard he has set for himself. For his entire career he has only ever had two series’ where he’s posted a better save percentage (the 2012-13 Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and a 2014 series against the Detroit Red Wings). And as long as we’re digging up numbers on a series-by-series basis for him, of the 14 playoff series’ he has played in his career he has only ever had four where his save percentage for the series was below .923. If you get that level of goaltending on a fairly consistent basis in a best of-seven series, you have an outstanding chance of winning it.

While you can’t discount the Bruins’ defensive play in front of Rask in this series — whether it’s forwards like Patrice Bergerone, or their blue liners including Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo — it’s not like Rask has been totally shielded and insulated from chances.

Entering Game 6 on Monday he’s already faced 44 “high-danger” chances in the series (via Natural Stat Trick), or just under nine per game. Only Jordan Binnington and Martin Jones have faced more among goalies still playing in Round 2. He has an .886 save percentage on those high-danger chances. Only Carolina’s Curtis McElhinney (who only played in two full games in Round 2) has a higher mark in this Round.

He has made the saves he has needed to make, and a lot of saves he probably shouldn’t have been asked to make.

For as good as Sergei Bobrovsky has played in the Columbus net in this series, Rask has been the better goalie.

There is an argument to be made he has been the best player in this series and as long as that continues there might not be anyone that can match up with the team the Bruins put on the ice.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NY governor says pro teams can resume training

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says teams in his state can return to their facilities for training after a pause of more than two months.

”Starting today, all the New York professional sports leagues will be able to begin training camps,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference Sunday.

The New York City area was one of the hardest-hit parts of the U.S. by the coronavirus pandemic, but COVID-19 deaths and new infections in the state have been trending downward.

Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are discussing the resumption of their seasons with their players’ unions.

”I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena – do it! Do it!” Cuomo said. ”Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

WCHA’s Alabama-Huntsville cuts hockey program

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Alabama-Huntsville is dropping men’s hockey and men’s and women’s tennis as part of budget cuts in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

School officials said athletes in those sports who want to join another team’s roster will be released without penalty and free to transfer immediately. If they choose to stay, their current scholarships will be honored for the duration of their academic careers.

Alabama-Huntsville was one of the only southern schools to have a men’s hockey varsity program. The Chargers won Division II national titles in 1996 and 1998 and were Division II runners-up in 1994 and 1997 before making the move to the Division I level for the 1998-99 season.

Men’s hockey had been the lone Division I sport for Alabama-Huntsville. It competes at the Division II level in all other sports.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

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Canada’s NHL teams have offered season-ticket holders rebate or refund options in acknowledgment that no more 2019-20 regular-season games will be played in front of fans in their respective buildings.

In a four-day span May 13-16, all seven teams contacted their season-ticket bases with options and, in some cases, deadlines to make a decision, according to The Canadian Press.

“It has become increasingly apparent, that any possibility will not include any further games being played this season in front of fans at Bell MTS Place,” the Winnipeg Jets said in an email.

That admission may seem anticlimactic given leagues and teams around the world are either playing in empty stadiums, or trying to figure out a way to just resume play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But season-ticket money is a key element of NHL business. Clubs are loathe to part with it.

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money.

Toronto Maple Leafs season-ticket holders had to declare they wanted their money back by Victoria Day or a credit would be applied to their accounts.

Their Montreal Canadiens counterparts had to make a decision by Friday, while the Vancouver Canucks’ deadline is June 3.

NHLPA board approves 24-team, return-to play-format

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We have our first step towards resuming the 2019-20 season with the approval of the return-to-play format by the NHLPA Executive Board.

The 31 NHL team representatives voted and a majority gave the thumbs up to the 24-team, conference-based proposal.

According to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, the vote was 29-2 in favor.

Now the plan moves on to the Board of Governors for their approval.

From the NHLPA:

The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.

If the BOG green lights it, the next steps would include figuring out proper safety protocols for all involved and how the hub city plan would work, among numerous other details.

Based on points percentage at the time of the March 12 NHL pause, the top four teams in each conference (Boston, Tampa, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, Dallas) will receive a first-round bye. Round 1 will feature eight play-in matchups in a best-of-five series.

As the play-in round takes place, the eight conference leaders could potentially take part in a mini tournament that will determine the seeding for Round 2. Reseeding after the play-in round is another topic likely to be discussed.

Here’s what it might end up looking like:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Bruins
• Lightning
• Capitals
• Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Blues
• Avalanche
• Golden Knights
• Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

Games would be played without fans with teams based in hub cities potentially located in both the U.S. and Canada. Columbus, Las Vegas, and Edmonton are a few of the cities that have shown interested in playing host to playoff games.

Since the 24-team format entered the rumor mill, it’s received a mixed reaction from players.

“Twenty-four teams sounds like a lot of teams to me,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson told Mike Tirico on Thursday. “You have to make sure there is some level playing field in terms of intensity…So while 24 teams sounds like a lot, maybe due to logistics, that makes the most sense.”

“I will say that when it comes to the format I think it is almost impossible to make everyone happy … the situation is what it is,” Lars Eller of the Capitals said via the Washington Post. “It is far from perfect. We are going to manage the best we can and I do think we will come together and find a solution regarding that. It is not going to be easy.”

Kris Letang told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that Penguins players voted “yes” on the proposal citing “greater good for everyone.”

“At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want,” Letang said. “But, we all want what is best for hockey and to continue to grow the game.”

MORE:
Predators’ Duchene: ‘You don’t want to have a COVID Cup’
Our Line Starts podcast: Evaluating fairness of 24-team NHL playoff

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.