WILMINGTON — It was a busy season for Tuukka Rask. After the goaltender signed a long-term deal with the Bruins in the offseason, he headed right into his first full, non-lockout season with the team, a season that also happened to include a trip to Sochi, Russia, to represent Finland in the Olympics.
In the end, that might have been exactly what Rask needed.
“It was a refreshing experience,” Rask said. “Even though it wasn’t a break, it was still a change from the grind that we were in here. And performing good and playing [with] a good team I think helped, too, to give me that boost. I definitely felt even better after the Olympics than I did before.”
He’s not alone. Both Loui Eriksson and Patrice Bergeron picked up their play once they returned from the Olympics, too.
“I think any time you get an opportunity to play in these kind of competitions it gives you a pretty good idea of what you’re probably going to see in the playoffs as far as the intensity level and what’s at stake,” coach Claude Julien said. “So these kind of things can never hurt the individual.
“If anything, it just helps him deal with it better and we hope we have enough players on our team that went through it that can maybe help out the other guys in that dressing room. So never a bad thing to have that in your room.”
Nor is a goaltender who can take a team to the Stanley Cup Final, as Rask did last season. In his 22 games in the playoffs, Rask had an outstanding 1.88 goals-against average and .940 save percentage.
And that’s exactly what the Bruins would like to see again this year.
“You want him to continue playing at his best and playing at the level he’s been playing at,” Milan Lucic said. “You saw it throughout this year, you saw it in the Olympics, and obviously you saw it last year in the playoffs.
“We know what type of goaltender he is. We know how important he is to this team’s success.’’
It helps that, even with all the games he’s played this season, even with a heavier workload than he’s ever had, Rask appears to be rested and ready for the postseason. He was able to split the workload with Chad Johnson, especially down the stretch and in the busy month of March. That, Rask said, was rest that he needed to feel fresh. And he does.
Rask ended up with 58 starts, with the Bruins having intended to give him between 55 and 60. He finished with a 36-15-6 record, a 2.04 GAA average, and a .930 save percentage. Those numbers position him as one of the top goaltenders in the league, and likely make him the favorite for the Vezina Trophy.
While that’s not the trophy he’d prefer to win at the end of this season, he wouldn’t mind it, either.
“It’s obviously an individual award, but then again you don’t win that award playing on a bad team, so a lot of credit goes to the teammates as well,” Rask said.
Three return to ice
After missing practice Tuesday, Bergeron, Eriksson, and Andrej Meszaros returned to the ice. They were likely part of a group felled by a “flu bug,” as Julien called it. Kevan Miller and Matt Bartkowski remained off the ice. “Doing better today,” Julien said. “We’re getting there.” . . . Dennis Seidenberg skated with strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides Wednesday at Ristuccia Arena for approximately 25 minutes.
There is a new playoff format for the NHL, a bracket that does its best to keep teams in their division, such that the winner of the Atlantic Division faces the winner of the Metropolitan in the Eastern Conference finals, and the winners of the Central and Pacific do the same in the West. The hitch is the two wild-card teams, which play the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in each conference. In the East, it works out that the Bruins are facing the Red Wings (both Atlantic teams) and the Penguins are facing the Blue Jackets (both Metropolitan). That’s not the case in the West, where both wild-card teams came out of the Central, with Dallas (Central) facing Anaheim (Pacific) in the first round. That is something that could be reconfigured in the future by the NHL.
Just in case
Justin Florek skated on a line with Eriksson and Carl Soderberg Wednesday. Florek could be a substitute if both Chris Kelly (back) and Daniel Paille (possible head injury) can’t play Friday. Neither took part in Wednesday’s practice. Jordan Caron is the team’s only other extra forward. “We don’t have a choice here right now,” Julien said. “This is what we have, the situation. I’ve liked the way he’s played when he was with us. I haven’t seen him as much as the people above me have, but they feel that he’s, right now, the guy that could be here to help us if we don’t have some of our guys back.” . . . As Lucic pointed out, the Bruins will now have played every other Original Six team in the postseason since 2011.