What should Bruins focus on in Game 6 after naming Rask as starter?

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In a perfect world, Tuukka Rask would be perfectly healthy for the Bruins heading into Game 6 against the Islanders on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN). Then again, if things were ideal for the Bruins, the Islanders wouldn’t have them on the brink of elimination.

However healthy Rask is, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed him as their Game 6 starter vs. the Islanders.

So, along with injecting Jake DeBrusk back into the lineup, the Bruins have Rask settled as their Game 6 starter. What else should they look at in heading into this must-win Game 6? Let’s consider what they should focus on — which sometimes means what they shouldn’t change.

Protect Rask, particularly on the PK

You know you’ve made a memorable comment when someone immediately produces a great T-shirt thanks to your phrasing. Tough to top this in reaction to Bruce Cassidy’s “New York Saints” comment regarding calls that went the Islanders’ way in Game 5.

What we know is that Cassidy’s comments cost him $25K. What we don’t know is if Cassidy will get his money’s worth in Game 6.

Truly, it’s anecdotal whether beefing about officiating actually affects calls. Rod Brind’Amour spoke about the disparity in penalties in the Predators – Hurricanes series, and that gap seemed to close. But was that a coincidence?

Either way, the Bruins certainly have incentive to be on the penalty kill less often. That already-obvious thought was even more abundantly clear in Game 5, where the Islanders burned the Bruins for penalties to the tune of a 3-for-4 success rate.

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Speaking of subjective matters, if Rask isn’t quite 100-percent, wouldn’t that theoretically shine through during shorthanded situations most of all? Here’s what Cassidy said about replacing Rask with Jeremy Swayman during the third period of Game 5.

“There was some maintenance that needed to be done. He wasn’t 100 percent, so we made a decision,” Cassidy said, via NBC Sports Boston. “That’s a call we had to make between periods. I’ll just say he wasn’t himself (or) 100 percent. Certainly could’ve went back in, but we made a decision not to put him back in.”

During a power play, a team can press a goalie who isn’t 100-percent. If this affects Rask’s lateral movement, there’s no better time for the Islanders to exploit the occasional cross-seam pass. Maybe Rask will be just a smidge less crisp in fighting to see around screens?

[PRE-GAME COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

For all we know, the Islanders might push Rask the most during cycle opportunities or rushes in Game 6. But, hypothetically, avoiding penalties might be the best way to optimize Rask’s situation.

So maybe that $25K will be … somewhat worth it? (Look, if there’s one thing murkier than a goalie’s injury status during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it might be a coach’s financial situation.)

Bruins shouldn’t let frustration get to them vs. Islanders

From an “eye-test” perspective, it honestly felt like the Bruins carried much of the play vs. the Islanders in Game 5, especially at 5-on-5.

Really, when you look at series numbers and charts, it’s tough to beat up Boston too much. Take this Corsi comparison for the series from Natural Stat Trick, for instance:

Bruins Islanders Corsi Nat Stat before Game 6
via Natural Stat Trick

Clearly, the Bruins lost their cool about officiating in Game 5. Or at least Bruce Cassidy did.

But overall, the overarching message should be “keep doing what you’re doing.”

Just consider some of the painful near-finishes. To understate things, David Pastrnak is not going to miss on chances like this one from Game 4 very often:

And, as productive as top Bruins were in Game 5, this Brad Marchand chance reminds that they maybe could have produced even more:

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 Second Round schedule, TV info]

All of that said, the Islanders could conceivably lock things down a lot more in Game 6.

After all, the Bruins scored the first goal of Game 5, yet the Islanders came back. Now Barry Trotz & Co. could ride the energy of home-ice advantage, and close this series out.

If Rask indeed falters, can the B’s make up the difference? Will they avoid getting frustrated or demoralized, particularly if the Islanders build a Game 6 lead?

People don’t always want to accept this, but there’s a lot you cannot control during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s up to Boston to roll with those punches, and give this their best shot.

BRUINS VS. ISLANDERS (NYI leads 3-2) – series livestream link

Game 1: Bruins 5, Islanders 2
Game 2: Islanders 4, Bruins 3 (OT)
Game 3: Bruins 2, Islanders 1 (OT)
Game 4: Islanders 4, Bruins 1
Game 5: Islanders 5, Bruins 4
Game 6: Wed. June 9: Bruins at Islanders, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
*Game 7: Fri. June 11: Islanders at Bruins, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

    The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

    The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

    Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

    The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

    Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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    TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

    The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

    “This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

    Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

    Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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    TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

    The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

    “Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

    The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

    Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

    Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

    The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

    “They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

    Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

    Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

    Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

    “I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

    The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

    There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

    “We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

    The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

    COMINGS AND GOINGS

    The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

    MORE POWER

    The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

    “It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

    BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

    Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

    “Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

    UP FRONT

    With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

    ON THE SLATE

    This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.