The candor of Tuukka Rask once again made him a lightning rod for scrutiny after the goalie admitted he didn’t feel a playoff atmosphere through the Bruins’ first two playoff games in the NHL bubble.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said he didn’t talk to Rask after he heard about the comments. He wasn’t surprised that Rask spoke his mind, but didn’t agree with his goalie’s feelings about the intensity level of the series so far, especially with the Bruins tied at a game apiece with the Carolina Hurricanes after Thursday night’s 3-2 loss in Game 2.
“Tuukka, I think the Boston media knows him well enough,” Cassidy said. “He answers his questions how he feels. It is a unique environment, but to me, there’s playoff intensity on the ice. You’ve just got to sort of control what you can control when you’re a player and, in my situation, a coach.”
Rask did not skate Friday but is anticipated to start Game 3 on Saturday (noon, NBC). He gave up three goals in each of the first two games of the series, making 25 saves in Game 1 and 23 saves in Game 2. With one goal being the difference in both games, Rask’s performance has been pivotal for the Bruins.
“His game [Thursday], I thought there were some good goals, some good shots,” Cassidy said. “Obviously, those one-goal games, huge goalies, they need to make the extra save somewhere along the way. We didn’t get it, they did. The opposite was true the other game before. We win a one-goal game. So that’s the way I look at it.
“Obviously I think his game can grow like all of our games. Goaltending positions are probably a tougher one with that long a layoff to get yourself up to speed. Not a lot of room for error. So I do understand that with all the goalies coming back in that situation. He’s no different. But we know he can play better and hopefully we’ll be better in front of him and he’ll get us the extra save and it’ll work in our favor.”
Rask’s comments, however, sparked criticism. The Stanley Cup playoffs are taking place under unprecedented circumstances without fans at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To be honest with you, it doesn’t really feel like playoff hockey because there’s no fans. It’s kind of like you’re playing an exhibition game,” Rask said after Thursday’s game. “Obviously, there are some scrums after the whistle. I haven’t noticed that they would be targeting me or whatnot. Things happen, people falling on you and whatnot. But it’s definitely not a playoff atmosphere.”
Captain Zdeno Chara chalked up Rask’s comments to a matter of opinion and centered the focus on regaining control of the series in Game 3.
“It’s something that we respect each other’s beliefs, opinions,” Chara said Friday. “We are not going to go any further or deeper into each other’s opinions. We are here to play hockey and win hockey games. Of course, we realize it’s that time of the year that we are not used to playing at this time. But at the same time, we play hockey and we are doing what we love to do. So that’s where it’s at and we just go out there tomorrow and play the game and try to win.”
No matter the circumstances, Cassidy said, games are being played and a championship is at stake.
“The way I look at it, at the end of the day, they’re going to hand out the Stanley Cup this year,” Cassidy said. “So we’ve got to play our best hockey if we want to be that team. That was our goal at the start of the year. We didn’t anticipate it’d end up in an environment like this, but here it is, right? So you play the hand you’re dealt. You prepare yourself. In my case, I prepare the team in this case for Game 3 to play our best hockey game and that’s what my focus is on right now, plain and simple.”
Support for Julien
Chara formed a strong bond with former Bruins coach Claude Julien over their nine seasons together in Boston. When he learned that the Canadiens coach was hospitalized Wednesday night after experiencing chest pains following Montreal’s 2-1 loss in their playoff opener against the Philadelphia Flyers, he sent well wishes to his former coach.
“I don’t know what exactly happened, but I obviously found out from the news that he was hospitalized after having some sort of discomfort and chest pain,” Chara said. “So obviously most importantly, I hope he’s OK. I hope he’s doing better and hopefully, his family is somewhere near or hopefully with him. But I wish him nothing but a fast and full recovery and hopefully, he gets back behind the bench and do what he loves to do, obviously, coaching.
“But it’s a little bit scary to hear that one of your friends and obviously coaches are being hospitalized. So again, wishing all the best, a full speedy.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.