When the Bruins have their full arsenal of players, they are unquestionably one of the top teams in the National Hockey League.

But up until now, not everyone agreed on just how integral Tuukka Rask was to that elite status. Now, it is obvious.

To come within a game of the Stanley Cup last year, the Bruins needed Rask to post a .934 save percentage and a 2.02 goals-against average. Meanwhile, the 35-year-old Jaroslav Halak has been game, but going into Monday’s Game 5 and the Bruins down 3-1 in the series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, he’s had a .900 save percentage and 2.94 goals-against average in the playoffs. It just hasn’t been good enough.

Coach Bruce Cassidy expounded on what Rask’s departure due to a family matter has meant for his team.

“We’ve said it before, we support Tuukka’s decision 100%,” said Cassidy before Monday’s game. “But then as we get back to work, of course it’s going to affect us. He’s a Vezina Trophy finalist, one of the elite goaltenders in this league. Jaro, we feel if he’s not the best backup in the league, then he’s right up there. But now he’s pushed to No. 1 duty and you’ve got Danny Vladar coming in at No. 2 and he just doesn’t have any NHL experience. It does affect you mentally. It affects how you construct your lineup when you had those back-to-backs. Previously, we would have just rolled Tuukka and Halak. Maybe we’d put Tuukka back in because of the circumstance of early game and no travel, but you still have the luxury of doing that, no questions asked, where with Dan you’ve got to think it through. It’s a tough spot for him to go in. We saw that when he had to go in the middle of the game. And then the mental part of it with the group, yeah, you get down. Do you believe you have all the pieces to win? You’d have to ask the players that. I always do. I’m an optimist. I’ve seen Jaro string together a lot of good hockey and I expect that tonight.

”But I think it does take a toll. You’ve seen some teams in the league overcome it. You see Dallas right now with (Anton) Khudobin, without their No. 1 (Ben) Bishop. But they’re scoring more than we are. You’ve seen the Islanders rolling both goalies like they did all year and they’re having success doing that. So you’re seeing both sides of when you have your full complement and when you don’t.”

END FOR CHARA, KRUG? As it is with every season, the Bruins could be saying goodbye to some players. But this year, it could be the end of this defense corps as we know it. Both Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug will be restricted free agents.

With Chara having been amenable to the club’s salary cap constraints at this stage of his career, it would at least seem like the decision on whether he comes back is mostly up to him. But Krug is in the prime of his career and should earn an expensive long-term contract somewhere. As much as management loves him and as much as Krug loves being a Bruin, the two sides were not able to come to an agreement when the financial outlook was a lot sunnier than it is now. Joakim Nordstrom will also be an unrestricted free agent.

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