The health and availability of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask remain a lingering issue that Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy can’t quite pin down.
Rask has missed the past four games with an upper-body injury. The 34-year-old missed five games previously in March after leaving in the third period of the Bruins’ 1-0 loss on March 7 to the New Jersey Devils with an apparent back issue. He returned on March 25, but only managed to stay on the ice for 20 minutes before reaggravating the injury.
Rask has been with the team and receiving treatment, but it’s unclear when he’ll be able to return to the ice.
“We always ask,” Cassidy said. “He’s here getting some treatments, just hasn’t responded as well as anybody likes. Sometimes when you’re given a definitive, ‘Hey, this guy is out for X amount of time’ or had surgery or this or that, it’s a little easier to put behind you. But when it’s kind of a day-to-day thing where the player’s here getting treatment, then you ask a little more.”
In 15 starts this season, Rask is 8-4-2 with a 2.40 goals-against average. Depth among goaltenders has made Rask’s health issues easier to mitigate. Jaroslav Halak has played 16 games (15 starts), going 8-5-3 with a 2.27 goals-against average and Daniel Vladar is 2-1 with a 2.03 goals-against average in three starts.
“Am I biting my fingernails off over it? No,” Cassidy said. “Vlady is getting opportunities. He’s played well. I thought he held us in the game early yesterday. Certainly has given us a chance to win every game he’s played and has won two of them.
“Jaro is as advertised to me. I think he’s played well, for the most part. A couple of bad periods here or there over the stretch of games he’s played — I think that’s very normal. So no, I’m not uncomfortable with whoever we put out there.”
While Halak and Vladar have been more than capable in Rask’s absence, Cassidy acknowledged the importance of having Rask back on the ice.
“I guess to answer your question, Tuukka is your No. 1 and you do wonder when can we expect him and just don’t get an answer for that. So that’s what you’re up against,” Cassidy said. “I think there’s some other areas of our game that I’ve been focusing on and we need to focus on and, our goaltending overall has been solid.”
The anxieties of the fast-approaching April 12 trade deadline are a part of the season that Patrice Bergeron has learned to manage and make easier for teammates in his 17 seasons with the Bruins.
“The message always remains the same,” Bergeron said. “You have to control what you can control, which is your play on the ice — collectively, individually — and the rest is really not in your hands. It’s something that I’ve learned over the years from the veterans and that’s what I’m trying to tell the younger guys now.
“It’s kind of my message to them is that control what you can control and then the rest just kind of let it go and stay in the moment and that’s it.”
In a season played during a pandemic, however, Cassidy said any murmurs leading up to the deadline only add to already-existing stressors, especially for younger players.
“I can imagine for players out there, in this pandemic here, it’s a little tougher because it’s like a lot of your game, you’re going to bring it home with you more often than not because you can’t go anywhere,” Cassidy said. “So you’re sitting around the house, you’re young guys that maybe don’t have families so you don’t have a lot else going on. You’re going to overthink things. So that it’s tough.
“It’s tough for players right now, especially the younger ones, to sort of put some of those things out of their mind whether it’s a bad game, a healthy scratch, or a potential trade. So some mental skills involved there and hopefully the older guys help with those situations.”
The Bruins had one of the more favorable first-half schedules in the NHL in terms of opportunities for rest, but the second half won’t be as kind.
Saturday’s game will start a stretch of five games in seven days. While the Bruins were able to get an average of 1.5 days of rest between games in the first half of the season, fifth-most in the league according to soundofhockey.com, they will get just 0.83 days of rest between games in the second half, the third-fewest.
With that in mind, Cassidy said he has to be mindful of when to use those days to practice and when to rest.
“You’ve got to pick and choose wisely,” Cassidy said. “Some of that will be feedback from the veteran group, how they’re feeling. Some of it will be performance on ice when you just have to say we’ve got to get out there and work on stuff.
“When is the day that you decide looking ahead that this would be a good day for a mental break as well as a physical break. So I think every team’s gone through it at some point or is going through it now this year.”
Pushing through the season offers little time to regroup, Cassidy said.
“I said it from Day 1,” he said. “If your team starts to go off the rails a bit, without the practice time, it’s a real challenge for coaches and for teams to sort of get it back. I think there’s been a few teams like that.
“We were able to practice today. Going forward for us, it will be a little tougher. Five games next week. So for us, we need to get our game in order starting tomorrow, because we won’t have a lot of time to correct it when you’re in the immediate future.”
Carlo won’t play
Brandon Carlo (upper-body injury) practiced Friday but will miss tomorrow’s game against the Penguins. He’s being listed as day-to-day. Cassidy said he was hoping to get a timeline soon ... Kevan Miller, out since February with a knee injury, will sit out tomorrow as well, but Cassidy said he was “getting closer” and he would provide an update Monday.
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