Rask next step on possible return to NHL, Bruins unclear


Rask practiced with Providence of the American Hockey League on Monday, but it’s unclear if he will play for them Friday or return straight to the NHL at some point.

“I have nothing else other than Providence’s next game right now is Friday,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said Monday. “So we’ll have to discuss whether that’s in play or right into our net at some point.

“So that’s what the discussion will entail, but we have a few days to sort through that so I imagine we’ll get to it tomorrow or Wednesday.”

The 34-year-old unrestricted free agent signed a professional tryout contract with the Bruins’ affiliate Jan. 6, and said it would take him 1-2 games to be ready to play in the NHL. He was scheduled to start for Providence on Jan. 7, but their games against Lehigh Valley scheduled for Jan. 7 and Jan. 9 were postponed due to COVID-19 concerns surrounding the Philadelphia Flyers affiliate. Providence’s next game is Friday, whe n it hosts Hartford (New York Rangers)..

Rask will not play for the Bruins at the Washington Captials on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSWA, NESN, ESPN+, NHL LIVE). Boston has three games this week, each at home, against the Montreal Candiens on Wednesday, the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday and the Nasvhille Predators on Saturday. 

The Bruins (18-11-2) are fourth in the Atlantic Division, 13 points behind the first-place Florida Panthers.  

When asked Saturday whether Rask could possibly play for Maine in the ECHL, Cassidy said, “I don’t know if it would be a waste of time. Live action anywhere is a good thing. Risk of injury … you always want to be careful your first game back, no matter where you play. I don’t think it’s been discussed, but I can’t say for certain. I think that’s got to be Tuukka’s call at the end of the day. With Providence being a wash, does he feel like he can go right back into the live action? We’ll have to make that call accordingly if we agree with him.” 

Rask had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip in late July and has been working out at the Bruins practice facility through his rehab. He began informally practicing with Boston in early December and said he is ready for his first game action since June 9.

“I feel great,” Rask said. “The biggest issue for me was the catching of the joint and the pain that that created. So that was gone. It makes a huge difference because every time I go to the butterfly (position) and get up, I don’t have to think about it locking up on me again and creating that pain. I feel great.”

Rask said the pain had been an issue for most of last season and not before, calling it a “wear-and-tear” problem. He said it hadn’t been a factor in his life outside of hockey and that, had he not wanted to continue playing, he did not need to have surgery.

As a result, Rask never considered retirement after going 15-5-2 with a 2.28 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and two shutouts in 24 games last season. His last game was a 6-2 loss to the New York Islanders in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Second Round. 

Rask said he wanted to return for another chance at the Stanley Cup with forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, his teammates for more than a decade. Rask was the backup to Tim Thomas when the Bruins won the Cup in 2011, then was the No. 1 goalie when they reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2013, losing in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks, and 2019, losing in seven games to the St. Louis Blues.

“I didn’t want to flirt with the opportunity to go anywhere else,” Rask said. “It’s a business, like everybody knows, but for us players when we’ve had a team like the Bruins, a bunch of us have grown up together here and you feel that brotherhood with the guys and you don’t want to leave guys on bad terms. I just wanted to try and come back and be helpful and maybe finish it up with a bunch of those guys who I’ve played with my whole career.”

As for signing a contract, Rask said, “We have a plan in place. It shouldn’t be an issue.” He repeated that he is not looking for a big-money contract and said he’s not contemplated his playing career beyond this season.

Rask, who has played his entire 14-season NHL career for the Bruins, is 306-163-66 with a 2.27 GAA and .921 save percentage in 560 games (540 starts). He is their all-time leader in wins (306) and is second in shutouts (52) behind Tiny Thompson (74).

The Bruins have been using goalies Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark this season. Swayman is 8-6-2 with a 2.26 GAA, .918 save percentage and one shutout in 16 starts. Ullmark is 10-5-0 with a 2.54 GAA and .918 save percentage in 15 starts.Ullmark is starting against Washington on Monday.

In late November, Boston general manager Don Sweeney said the goalies had been “OK.” Since then, Swayman and Ullmark have performed better, but what the Bruins will do with them remains in question. 

“The obvious is that this is a world-class goalie that’s getting closer and closer,” Cassidy said. “We sat down with Jeremy and Linus at the start of the year, before opening night, kind of spelled out what Tuukka’s plan would be here. And the focus was on Ullmark and Swayman first, they were Boston Bruins. 

“Tuukka is a great pro, and he was going to use the facility and rehab and see where it led. He had a timeline I think everyone was aware of, including those two, that he may or may not come back and play. So they knew from Day One.”

Swayman is a rookie. Ullmark, in his seventh NHL season, signed a four-year, $20 million contract July 28. The former can be sent to Providence without waivers. 

“We’re top 10 [in goaltending}. We want to be top five,” Cassidy said. “We want to be one of the elite teams in the League and we’re trending toward that, so that’s a good thing. And Tuukka, we would assume, can only help us with that, if in fact he ends up being a Bruin. So for me, I think it’s a good problem to have.”

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