Pieces of Brad Marchand’s stick were flying behind the net, bodies of six Bruins were crashing in front of it, and all around James Reimer’s crease, the Hurricanes were playing keep-away with the puck.
The final minute-plus of the Bruins’ 3-2 loss to Carolina Thursday night was everything we’ve come to expect of the final minute-plus in the playoffs, all desperation and nervous sweat — the Bruins doing anything and everything they could to tie the game, the Hurricanes doing anything and everything they could to tie the series.
Intensity, thy name is playoff hockey.
To everyone, it seems, but Tuukka Rask.
That was the Bruins goalie’s stunning postgame admission after he’d watched the final 1:25 from the bench, pulled so his teammates could try to match the sizzling shot Dougie Hamilton had put past him earlier in the period.
Asked about the traffic in his crease and if it’s reflective of the higher stakes, here’s what Rask said:
“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. Obviously, there are some scrums after the whistle. I haven’t noticed that they would be targeting me or what not. Things happen, people falling on you and what not. But it’s definitely not a playoff atmosphere.”
Words to shake your head by. In the land of Zoom postgame press conferences, there are no immediate follow-up questions, but with my virtual hand raised, I got the chance to ask him to clarify:
“You’re trying to play as hard as you can,’' he said. “Obviously, you’re playing a best-of-seven series so there’s going to be some battles going on and whatnot. But when you play at your home rink, you play at an away rink, and there’s fans cheering for you or against you and that creates another buzz around the series. There’s none of that, so it just feels dull at times.
“There are moments that — OK, there’s little scrums and whatnot. But then there might be five minutes and it’s just coast-to-coast hockey and there is no atmosphere. It just feels like an exhibition game.”
Hardly inspirational. And never mind to a viewing public so thirsty for any sports action it has latched on to the Stanley Cup playoffs like a life preserver, grateful for anything to stay mentally afloat in these strange, pandemic times. But how must that sound to teammates?
Marchand tried to play it off as confusion, saying Rask must have been talking about the round-robin games. If the first two playoff games had shown us anything, it’s that most of the Bruins saw those three seeding games as nothing more than a glorified exhibition, with their level of play rising considerably once the puck dropped Wednesday morning, when they outlasted the Hurricanes in overtime to take a 1-0 series lead.
“These are playoff games; playoff atmosphere and we’re going to compete,” Marchand said. “We’re going to compete. It’s definitely different. There is no question. It doesn’t have the same atmosphere and there is no home-ice advantage. It’s just straight up hockey at this point. Unfortunately, that is the playoffs this year.
“At least we’re playing.”
Rask is playing, too — and he actually played well, despite the start times of Games 1 and 2 occurring only 33 hours apart. But no spin can change the fact: He knew what he was saying, and his words make you wonder how much his heart is in this.
Why else would he have admitted this, too, when asked how he felt after the back-to-back games, ones compressed by a postponed puck drop in Game 1:
“Considering I had four months off, not in prime shape, but trying to get there. I’m just trying to have fun and play the game. I’m not expecting too much about results and whatnot. It’s August and I haven’t played hockey in forever. Just go out there and have fun and see what happens.”
Not expecting results? Results and whatnot? Playing in August?
Like it or not, Tuukka, this is the playoffs.
And we’re lucky to have them.
But now you’ve gone and changed the conversation, pointing yet another spotlight of scrutiny on yourself, pumping life into a topic that has divided a local fan base for what feels like the entirety of your tenure in Boston.
Rask is more than good enough to win a Stanley Cup as a primary goalie — his stellar play across last year’s run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final included some of the best games of his life. And he’s done it behind a personality that has always ticked to its own clock, true to himself and his own quirks.
But this isn’t so much an issue of honesty. An athlete being honest in a postgame setting is one of the best aspects of sports, revealing raw emotion that, in most cases, reminds us of how much is at stake. This is more an issue of candor. Or discretion. And how Rask might have been wiser to let the latter silence the former.