According to Tuukka Rask, the sooner the Bruins throw him in net, the better.
“I expect to play a great game, whenever that is,” he said Wednesday morning on a Zoom call. “Whether that’s realistic or not, that’s what I expect.”
Rask won’t test his surgically repaired hip with a tuneup in the minors, instead donning a ball cap and manning the Bruins’ bench door for Wednesday night’s 5-1 win over the Canadiens. His first game action will be Thursday against Philadelphia, coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed afterward.
It will be the 561st career game for the 34-year-old Finn, who could have retired with the team records for wins (306) and games, one Stanley Cup championship, and a career save percentage (.922) and goals-against average (2.27) that rank third and 10th on the NHL’s all-time list.
“It would have been nice to go out there and get some kinks out, but then again, you’ve seen guys come back from injury and they get lit up for 6, 7, 8 goals,” Rask said.
“It’s going to be a mental challenge mostly anyway, come my next game, but I’ve played enough games that I think I can overcome that challenge and hopefully play at my best.”
The Bruins are moving forward with Rask and Linus Ullmark, who won his third straight game against the Habs. Cassidy said he may alternate goalies in the coming days, noting that Rask’s response to injury and the production from both goaltenders will determine the split.
The Bruins assigned Jeremy Swayman, who is on a two-way contract, to AHL Providence. Ullmark said it was “bittersweet” to not continue his post-win bear hug ritual with Swayman, but Rask, he said, is “a tremendous goaltender, a cult figure for the Boston Bruins.”
Brad Marchand saw it as “unfortunate for Sway, being in a numbers game,” but was happy for his pal.
“Tuuks is an incredible goalie and has been for a very long time in this league,” Marchand said. “There’s no doubt he’s going to help our team. There’s going to be games he steals that we shouldn’t win.”
The Same Old Tuukka would be an incredible bargain: a one-year, $1 million contract, which has a no-movement clause, according to agent Markus Lehto. Rask stopped short of calling this a farewell tour, but having another kick at the can with the only organization he has known — and with longtime teammates Marchand and Patrice Bergeron — remains his biggest motivation.
Rask believes the Bruins’ chances are “as good as anybody else,” owing to a strong core and recent show-me wins against Tampa Bay and Washington. Good thing, since Bergeron, like Rask, is on an expiring deal.
“We’re getting older and the window’s closing,” Rask said. “We haven’t talked about specific [retirement] dates or nothing. I told Bergy a couple of weeks ago he should do what I did, just wait half a season and sign next year. He should take some time off. He’s played a lot of hockey.”
Rask wasn’t kidding when he said his hip rehab wasn’t too strenuous. The hardest part came early.
“There was no pain,” he said. “The rehab is fairly easy and pain-free, it’s just the patience. The first month or two months, you can’t really do anything more than lay on the table and let your trainer mobilize the hip to make sure it doesn’t stiffen up too much.
“I’m not the most patient guy when it comes to waiting around and not doing things.”
So retirement, whenever it comes, might be a challenge. Rask isn’t thinking that far ahead.
“I haven’t made any plans for the future. And I haven’t played a hockey game in a long time,” he said. “I want to come back solid and start building on my game and get that rhythm back that I’m used to having.
“So that’s where my head’s at right now. I haven’t made any long-term plans yet. We’ll see what happens.”
Good news on Foligno
Nick Foligno’s lower-body injury doesn’t look as bad as initially feared. Foligno, felled Saturday against Tampa Bay, skated lightly on his own Wednesday morning. Cassidy said Foligno could return next week. “Good news on that front,” said Cassidy. “Watching on video, it didn’t look good.” … Cassidy said Trent Frederic (upper-body injury Monday) will miss Wednesday and Thursday at least, but could return Saturday … Jake DeBrusk and Tomas Nosek came off the COVID list, slotting in as No. 3 left wing and No. 4 center, respectively ... Connor Clifton and Derek Forbort remained in COVID protocol.
Making an impact
Cassidy has been pleased with defenseman Urho Vaakanainen, who was in the lineup for a third consecutive game and assisted on the final goal. “Just a little upgrade in every area,” the coach said, pointing to the 23-year-old Finn’s body language, engagement, practice habits, and execution as improved over his prior NHL stints — not unlike forward Oskar Steen, who has carved out a spot. The Bruins see Vaakanainen as a defense-first backliner who can kill plays with his feet and stick and make a strong first pass. He has made better use of his frame (6 feet 1 inch, 185 pounds) this time around. Plus, he had two assists in two games (equaling his output in 16 previous NHL contests). “I think he’s passed the puck well,” Cassidy said. “He’s been assertive when it’s on his stick, looking to go north. Not afraid to hold onto it an extra second or two, if that’s what the situation dictates, while he’s moving his feet to open up some passing lanes.” … The Bruins have had 16 different goal-scorers in their last seven games, coming out of their December pause.
Marchand became the second Bruin in more than 30 years with three straight two-goal games. Bergeron did the same in 2019. The last time before that: Cam Neely in 1988 … The Bruins have nine first-period goals in their last three games … Montreal defenseman Chris Wideman could be suspended for a head-butt on Erik Haula in the third. Wideman was given four minutes (roughing, unsportsmanlike conduct). A head-butt (Rule 47) is a double-minor if attempted, and five minutes and a game misconduct if it connects. Head-butting with an injury is a match penalty.