Tuukka Rask‘s future is uncertain after the Boston Bruins season ended Wednesday with a 6-2 loss to the New York Islanders in Game 6 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Second Round at Nassau Coliseum.
The goalie said he does not know what comes next. Or he’s not yet willing to share the answers publicly. For Rask, the uncertainty is twofold.
There is his health, which was not 100 percent in the regular season or during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and which Rask confirmed after the game may necessitate surgery.
“I don’t want to get into that right now,” Rask said. “We’re going to release the injury report in a couple days. We’re going to have our exit meetings. We can talk about it then. I promise I’ll give you a full lowdown then. I don’t think that needs to be the headline now.”
Then there is his status as a pending unrestricted free agent, with the eight-year, $56 million contract ($7 million average annual value) he signed July 10, 2013 coming to an end.
“We’ll see,” the 34-year-old said of his future. “I don’t have any thoughts right now. It’s a pretty tough loss, so I’m going to sleep a few nights and we’re going to have our exit meetings and start planning on the future.”
Up until Wednesday morning, when Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed Rask would start Game 6, there was a question whether Rask was healthy enough to play. He had been dealing with injuries since the regular season, playing one period between March 7 and April 15, and was pulled before the third period of Game 5 on Monday.
Boston could have opted to start backup Jeremy Swayman, a 22-year-old rookie who made 10 regular-season starts (7-3-0, 1.50 goals-against average, .945 save percentage). But the Bruins opted instead for Rask, believing in the goalie who had helped them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and 2019, despite the injury Cassidy referred to as “nagging” multiple times.
“He was healthy, healthy enough to play,” Cassidy said after the game. “He wasn’t 100 percent. I can’t answer whether he was 95 or 92, or whatever. We talked to him on a daily basis. He’s ready to go. We’ve been very upfront with him. We gave him time to heal in the middle of the year and we would have given him time to heal from game to game in the playoffs if that was necessary.
“He’s our starting goalie and he told us he was ready to go, and that’s that.”
Rask faced 27 shots in Game 6 and allowed four goals. He allowed four goals on 16 shots in Game 5 before being pulled for Swayman.
“Listen, it wasn’t good enough to win,” Cassidy said. “But neither were we. So this isn’t on Tuukka.”
Cassidy acknowledged that the Bruins were in a difficult spot with injuries to defensemen Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller and needed other players to make up for the losses, including Rask.
“Of course he could have been better,” Cassidy said. “There were some rebounds that we could have as a whole cleared or controlled better. We could have started there. But we mismanaged some pucks and put him in bad spots as well. This is a team loss to me, all the way down the line.”
Rask did not shy away from his part in the loss.
“I could have made a couple more saves, definitely,” he said. “I should have made a few of those saves, kept it tighter. But I didn’t do it today and the season ended. It’s disappointing but I battled, I tried. I just fell short.”
The injury, he said, was on his mind, “nagging in the back of your head.” He couldn’t help thinking about it but tried to push those thoughts out and focus on the game. He was mostly pleased with the way he was able to do that, and so were his teammates, knowing what he was going through.
“I think it speaks volumes of him,” Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron said. “He’s been doing it for many, many years now. He’s always been stepping up when needed and battling through things here and there. We knew that it wasn’t always easy at times for him with what he was dealing with, but kudos to him for wanting to be there for us.”
For nearly a decade, the Bruins goalie has been a constant. Though there have been ups and downs, injuries and doubters, Rask has been there. But now his future and Boston’s goaltending situation may no longer be so simple.
The window to contend could be closing. So could Rask’s.
“I think it’s the same answer as every year,” Rask said. “We’re all getting older and we’re not going to last forever, so it’s definitely closing at some point, for sure.”