I was there in Carolina on Dec. 23, 2018, when an unfocused bunch of Bruins gave the Hurricanes a sackful of early Christmas presents. In that 5-3 loss, few Bruins were more generous than Tuukka Rask, whose lackadaisical puck play gifted Sebastian Aho a shorthanded goal.
Afterward, Bruce Cassidy ripped his starter for not fulfilling that part of the job. Down the hall, Rask muttered his displeasure with his coach’s analysis.
I thought of that game several times this season when watching Rask play dump-ins and rims. He charged out, stopped the puck, and moved it. Quick, clean, decisive.
The most improved area of Rask’s game this season (26-8-6) has been his puck play. It has gone from shaky to solid, and is one of the reasons he is a Vezina Trophy favorite. Rask himself said he changed nothing over the summer.
“I think it’s mostly our D getting to spots and getting open,” he said late last month, in a one-on-one conversation in the Warrior Ice Arena dressing room. He said his rotation with Jaroslav Halak, which has kept him fresh, was more of a factor.
“That’s pretty much it, yeah,” said Rask, who logged 41 starts before the NHL paused. That was tied for 15th-most in the league. “I have the energy to go stop it more times and go move it quick. That’s it.”
Rask, who missed three games because of a concussion after a Jan. 14 knock from Columbus’s Emil Bemstrom, was feeling fresh.
“It’s been kind of like last year,” he said, “which worked out for us.”
When I asked Rask his expectation for his future workload, the conversation shifted.
“I have one year left in the contract, so we’ll see if I even play,” he replied.
Is that a real possibility?
“We’ll see,” he said. “Always a possibility.”
Rask’s eight-year, $56 million contract expires after the 2020-21 season. It’s unclear how much the Bruins will be willing to commit to Halak, a pending unrestricted free agent. Halak’s age (35 in May) means his salary and bonuses will count against the cap. The Bruins are likely to let youngsters Dan Vladar, Jeremy Swayman, and Kyle Keyser vie for the Providence net this fall. They may have a great need to sign Rask, who would be 34 in the fall of ‘21, to another deal.
If Rask doesn't want one, would he return to play in his native Finland?
“No. No, I wouldn’t,” he said.
Just be done with his career?
“Yeah. Family time.”
Rask’s two young daughters are in school here. He and his wife, Jasmiina, are expecting another.
“Just be home,” he said. “The wear and tear of the travel with two, almost three kids now, makes you think. I love to do it. But it’s tough.”
Rask, who makes his home in the suburbs, is likely finding time to crash around on that Metallica-themed drum set his teammates got him for playing his 500th game. As of late February, he had used it “a couple” of times.
“It’s in my basement,” he said. “It’s not soundproof. But quiet enough. At least I don’t bug the neighbors. I try to play if they’re in school. I don’t want to [tick]anyone off. Just whatever, bang away.”
Maybe he’ll have a second act in a heavy metal band.
“No. Not a chance,” he said, smiling. “Well, there’s always a chance.”