The sight of a vacated Bruins net — in the final minute of regulation during a 2-2 game, no less — might have been the most concerning bit of optics for Boston on Wednesday night, at least for a brief spell.
But speaking after his club's eventual 3-2 overtime victory over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, Bruce Cassidy was more concerned with the skaters serving as the next line of defense in front of Tuukka Rask — opting to take his D corps to task in what was an uncharacteristically sloppy night on the blue line.
"We weren't very good in front of (Rask)," Cassidy said of Boston's defensive structure on Wednesday. "I think it was probably the toughest night our D corps had. We weren't crisp with the puck. We had a pair that fought it all night. We did make some plays, but as a whole, that group looked their age tonight. ... I didn't think it was their cleanest game. That's not all on the D, but just our puck play was spotty at best. You could tell — it looked like we hadn't played in a while."
You very well could make the case that Boston was overdue for a night like Wednesday, in which a D corps featuring four starters aged 25 or under were going to let the opposition get the best of them. By the end of the night, the Rangers generated an expected goals rate of 4.58 to Boston's 2.99 — a testament to the number of Grade-A looks that the Blueshirts were able to generate against a laboring B's defense. From that angle, it was Boston's worst defensive showing of the season, with their second-highest xGA coming against the Devils (just 2.78) back on Jan. 16.
(For Reference: Expected goals accounts for both shot quantity and quality by factoring in multiple shot factors, including the type of shot, distance from the net, angle, 5v5, power play, penalty kill, etc. In other words, the Rangers were expected to score 4.5 goals on Wednesday, based on the chances they were generating.)
Aside from a second period in which the Bruins definitively tilted the ice in their favor (23-5 edge in scoring chances for Boston), the Rangers managed to capitalize against a number of defensive miscues and bring high-danger scoring bids right to the B's doorstep — especially in a third period in which New York outshot Boston, 15-6, and held an 11-3 edge in scoring chances.
(While Boston generated its fair share of looks against Alexandar Georgiev down one end of the ice, New York routinely peppered Rask down low — generating 11 high-danger shots against the B's goalie.)
But on a night in which Boston's young defense finally showed a fault in its armor, those multiple Rangers chances brought to the blue paint didn't go any further beyond the crease — with Rask serving as the equalizer in Boston's fourth straight victory.
For as much as Boston's stout defensive structure, strong special-teams play, the dominance of the team's top stars and the emergence of youngsters like Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and others have snagged plenty of the spotlight when it comes to the Bruins' 9-1-2 start to the 2021 season, Rask's play between the pipes has also been instrumental to the club's success — with Wednesday's performance in New York serving as his best showing to date.
Of those 11 high-danger chances