WASHINGTON — Tuukka Rask felt good. In his first World Cup of Hockey exhibition appearance against Sweden last Saturday, Rask saw the puck well and moved confidently in his crease.
Results are results, however, and the bottom line was not good for Rask: five goals allowed on 28 shots in Finland’s 6-3 loss to Sweden, which included an empty-netter. Never mind that two of the first three goals flicked off the stick of ex-teammate Loui Eriksson from point-blank range on the power play (including one two-man advantage). Or that the third, a Patric Hornqvist fling from the corner, glanced off Finnish defenseman Sami Vatanen and skittered past Rask.
In international tournaments, coaches require hot goalies. So in Tuesday’s exhibition finale, Team Finland coach Lauri Marjamaki gave Rask a seat on the bench against Team USA in favor of Pekka Rinne (13 saves on 15 shots in the Finns’ 3-2 overtime win over the Swedes on Thursday). The US won, 3-2.
“I felt like I was moving very good,” Rask said. “My angles were pretty good. It was a good start. Although you let in five goals, you try and take the positive out of it and see what you could have done better.”
Rask has experienced peaks and valleys in international competition. He was Finland’s ace in the 2014 Olympics. Rask was in goal for Finland’s quarterfinal win over the Russians. Rask earned the win in the bronze-medal game against Team USA. But Rask was sick for the semifinals against the hated Swedes. With Kari Lehtonen in goal, Sweden won, 2-1.
It wasn’t the first time a sickness felled Rask. Before the Bruins’ must-win regular-season finale last season against Ottawa, Rask reported ill to TD Garden. In warm-ups, Rask mostly took a knee at center ice. He was too sick to watch Jonas Gustavsson get the unexpected start and flame out in a 6-1 embarrassment.
“It was tough for a couple weeks,” Rask said. “You can’t control when you get sick. That’s just life, you know? It was tough for a couple weeks. Then you move on from that and start working out, get ready for a good summer. I skated a lot this summer. I’m feeling pretty good on the ice and off the ice.”
The end may not have been so disastrous had Rask and his teammates taken care of business at the beginning. Had the Bruins recorded 1 point in their first three games of 2015-16, they would have qualified for the playoffs.
But train wrecks were stopping to watch the Bruins thunder off the rails at the start of the season. They lost the opener to Winnipeg, 6-2. Two nights later, the Canadiens claimed a 4-2 win. The Bruins completed the opening homestand with a 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay. Following the zero-point wobble, Rask had an .846 save percentage.
Rask’s numbers reflected a defense unfit for NHL standards. Future buyout target Dennis Seidenberg was unavailable because of back surgery. The Bruins thought so little of Matt Irwin’s first two games that they waived the former UMass-Amherst defenseman, never to be seen in Boston again. Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow, and Colin Miller didn’t do much to earn guaranteed ice time through the first three games.
But Rask’s save percentage also said he wasn’t ready for NHL action either. For whatever reason, Rask didn’t feel comfortable when the regular season began. Rask termed some of the goals he allowed as unusual. When that happens, Rask usually isn’t square to shooters or seeing pucks well.
“It’s the last thing you want to have happen,” Rask said. “Good starts are always important. Last year especially, I think we got off to a pretty bad start, myself especially. That’s something you want to change.”
Rask ($7 million per season through 2021) is tied with Rinne as the third-highest paid goalie in the league. Only Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million annually) and Sergei Bobrovsky ($7.425 million) have plumper paychecks. Rask (31-22-8, 2.56 goals-against average, .915 save percentage) submitted some hot stretches last season, but overall, did not play up to his salary’s requirements. In comparison, shortlived Bruin Martin Jones ($3 million annually) went 37-23-4 with a 2.27 GAA and a .918 save percentage, albeit behind a far stouter San Jose roster.
The Bruins have not made significant improvements on the back end. They project to break camp with a depth chart of Zdeno Chara, Colin Miller, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, John-Michael Liles, Adam McQuaid, and Morrow. Both Millers should be better this year given their age. But the NHL is not kind to 39-year-old defensemen like Chara or 35-year-old blue liners like Liles.
This means the Bruins will expect their usual Vezina Trophy standard from Rask. He won the award in 2014 after going 36-15-6 with a 2.04 GAA and a .930 save percentage. Rask is hoping a good showing at the World Cup will be the launchpad he needs when the real games begin.
“You want to be in the best game shape as possible going into the regular season,” Rask said. “You don’t know who’s going to be playing most of the games. But even if you’re not playing, you get really good practices. You make sure you’re ready for the rest of training camp when you go home. I think that’s the biggest thing for me. I just want to be really, really ready when the regular season starts. I think this will be a huge help.”