There has been speculation in recent days that Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask might be allowed to return to the Bruins somewhere down the line if his family issues end up settling down.
The Bruins goaltender would need to go through a lengthy quarantine in order to be eligible to play and practice, but the NHL has indicated that it would be feasible even as no other players have left the bubble since the Stanley Cup Playoffs began a couple of weeks ago.
Certainly, Rask gave no indication that a return was in his mind when he headed back to Boston last weekend to attend to what has been described as “a family emergency.”
Well, it sure doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen in the near term as Bruins President Cam Neely confirmed he hasn’t spoken with Rask since he opted out of the Toronto bubble last weekend to be with his family back in Boston.
Instead, Neely and the organization are focused on the Bruins group that just eliminated the Carolina Hurricanes in five games while they wait to see who their second round opponent will be, with the choices narrowed down to the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders.
“I have not spoken to Tuukka the last few days. Obviously, as you know, as Don [Sweeney] mentioned, he came to us and spoke to us the morning of Game 3, where he said he had to go home and deal with a family emergency, so we respected that,” said Neely. “Now it’s about the guys that are here and the team that we have here that we have to focus.”
Clearly there was a step forward in Bruins leadership starting last weekend once adversity hit with Rask now out of the fold, and David Pastrnak also missing with an upper body injury suffered in the Game 1 win. The Bruins rallied around Jaroslav Halak while winning three straight games after the Rask decision, and the team undoubtedly lived up to everybody’s assumption that their experience, mental toughness and character would be a massive key in such an unusual playoff situation.
“Well, we’ve never really made things easy around here. Like I said earlier, the guys are focused on who’s here and what we have to do to play well, and to give ourselves a chance to win. It’s really about the group here and our players really focus on that,” said Neely. “They talk a lot about it. They’re really a close group to begin with, both young and older players really get along well. [They] have a lot of fun together. They’re tight both on and off the ice, which I think helps make a successful club.”
At this point, Halak has a 1.67 goals against average and a .932 save percentage in the three games he won in the Carolina series, and the Bruins have thrown their full support behind their backup netminder. There are some parallels between the intense Halak and the last guy to win the Cup for Boston, Tim Thomas, but Neely said the B’s backup is his own guy as he takes over as the No. 1 goalie for the next couple of months.
“He’s a competitor, both on and off the ice. He’s well-focused. I think obviously a little surprising to get the call when he did. As a backup goaltender, you have to be prepared to come in at any time. I thought he stepped in and did a good job for us,” said Neely. “He’s very intense, but he’s got a great sense of humor. I don’t necessarily compare him to Tim [Thomas]. He battles out there. He wants to stop all the pucks, like most goalies obviously do.”
Given that Neely said at least four times during the video conference that the team’s focus was on the players in the Toronto bubble, it might be time for Bruins fans to let Rask be with his family and get used to the idea the team is moving on without him for these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Because that certainly sounds like what Neely is doing with his hockey club now over the shock of their No. 1 goaltender opting out and heading home.