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

Tuukka Rask
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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.