Tuukka Rask: 'Puck felt like it was a golf ball out there' during tough outing

USA Today Sports Images

Tuukka Rask: 'Puck felt like it was a golf ball out there' during tough outing

MONTREAL – Tuukka Rask had been the best goalie in the NHL for the entire first month of the season.

It’s why he was leading the league in both goals against average and save percentage entering the month of November, and part of why the Bruins were atop the NHL as a team.

Unfortunately, it would be pretty much impossible for Rask to keep up the pace of his great start in October and that’s how things played out in his worst game of the season on Tuesday night in Boston’s 5-4 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

It was bad timing as Rask was one of the few fresh Boston players on the ice as the Bruins were playing their third game in four days, and second of a back-to-back after digging deep to come back against the Penguins 24 hours prior in Boston.

Rask gave up all five goals on 31 shot attempts to the Habs to drop all the way to third in the league in goals against average (1.88 GAA) and fourth in save percentage (.936), and saved some of his worst for last as Habs D-man Ben Chiarot beat him for the game-winner in the third on a routine wrist shot from the face-off circle that Rask simply missed with his glove hand.

“I saw it,” said Rask. “It hit my glove and then bounced off my leg and into the middle of the net.”

Combine that with a couple of soft goals allowed in the first period as well when Rask allowed two goals in 31 seconds to Montreal after the Bruins had tied the game early, and it was the Boston netminder’s worst night of the season by a long shot.

“For me it was,” said Rask, when asked if it felt like a battle during the game. “It was one of those nights where instead of a hockey puck you feel like it’s a golf ball out there. I just wasn’t tracking it well, so it was a tough night for me. I thought we battled well and we could have easily won the game. But I couldn’t really make a save.

“It’s just one of those nights that you’re not tracking it well. That’s it.”

The good news for Rask is that he’ll get a chance to right the ship this weekend with a couple of games, though it wouldn’t be surprising if backup Jaroslav Halak gets the call against the Red Wings on Friday after Rask spit the bit against the Habs. It sure sounds like Rask will get the benefit of the doubt from the Bruins coaching staff after a great first month of the season when the B’s No. 1 netminder usually struggles out of the starting gate.

“Yeah there was, and it was tonight. He wasn’t that sharp,” said Cassidy, when asked if there was bound to be a night when Rask wasn’t as good as he’d been in the first month of the season. “We battled back so it would have been nice to get that last save, but he’s human. He’s been really good for us, so that’s going to happen for everybody.”

The Bruins have to hope that their goaltender can bounce back to superhuman mode pretty quickly, though, given how important elite level goaltending is to the overall success of their hockey club this season.

WATCH: Controversial offsides call erases Coyle goal>>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

NHL players need to follow Patrice Bergeron's advice: 'Be smart and use common sense'

NHL players need to follow Patrice Bergeron's advice: 'Be smart and use common sense'

BRIGHTON, Mass. — Now that the Bruins are back practicing together as a group after the first day of Phase 3 training camp, the biggest challenge still waits patiently in front of them.

Quite frankly, it sits in front of the entire NHL as the league attempts to get 24 teams through a two-week training camp, a week of practices in a hub city and then several months of playoff games without enduring any back-breaking COVID-19 outbreaks along the way.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

It’s certainly not going to be easy, as we saw on Monday as more than a handful of Penguins players were kept off the ice in Pittsburgh due to secondary exposure with somebody who ended up testing positive for COVID-19.

We’ve also seen in Major League Baseball where the demand for testing has already overwhelmed the private labs that MLB hired out to provide them with an essential element of returning to play.

Over the weekend Don Sweeney said that he fully expects the Bruins to be forced into navigating through positive cases in the future, even if the internal belief among the Black and Gold is that the one and only COVID-19 positive Bruins player to this point was a false positive result rather than the real thing.

“Individual positive tests are going to happen and we have to act accordingly,” said Sweeney. “It’s going to be a real test for our group, but I think our group is really strong in that regard. We can lean on resources and tap into people that they do during the year, and really go through these things as a group. Team structure is going to be really important.”

If any pro sports league in North America has a shot at getting through it over the next six months it’s got to be the NHL, which has a thorough set of safety protocols, a group of 700-plus players who are fully on board after voting by an 80-20 margin to return to play, and a plan to take the game up to Toronto and Edmonton, where the COVID-19 outbreaks have been contained. All of these add up to the essential things that are needed for a successful return to play.  

Still, it’s going to take a full buy-in from NHL players and personnel to persevere all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in October. The NHL released numbers on Monday that 30 out of 600 players had tested positive in Phase 2 (5 percent) and 43 of the roughly 720 players worldwide tested positive over the last few months.

It's fairly encouraging considering there were no restrictions on off-ice activity for players during Phase 2 and that there was zero growth in positive cases when the NHL upped the allowed player participation numbers from six to 12 players a couple of weeks ago. But it still means there is going to need to be buy-in across the NHL where each team will only be as strong as their weakest links in terms of players.

The bottom line: The NHL's Return to Play means getting all players on-board in terms of behavior and being both safe and smart away from the rink no matter what their personality, maturity level or beliefs about the very real dangers posed by COVID-19.

It seems like just a few years ago that the Bruins reportedly needed a security guard outside Tyler Seguin’s hotel room during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs to make sure the youngster wasn’t sneaking out at night. That kind of thing absolutely can’t happen over the next few months and the players all seem to understand the gravity of the situation.   

The Bruins, in particular, are uniquely poised as example-setters given their strong veteran leadership group headed by Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, so it’s no surprise the message sent to the rest of the team was a strong, resonant one.

“Professionalism is going to be huge. We need to rely on everyone for this thing to happen and for this to work. We're not going to babysit [guys] on their whereabouts and whatnot, so it's about trusting one another to do the right thing and being committed to this thing to work and to go forward,” said Bergeron. “I think that’s the most important thing is to be professionals about it. Be smart and use common sense.”

Honestly, every NHL team would probably feel a lot better about their chances of keeping things together from start to finish this hockey postseason if they had somebody like No. 37 doling out the wisdom inside the dressing room. It will be particularly difficult once the Bruins settle into the Toronto hub city without their families for most of August and September. The challenge there will be to steer clear of any risky behavior once boredom sets in, when a few positive cases could end up shutting the entire operation down.

Using good judgment was part of the message passed down from Bruce Cassidy to the players on Monday prior to getting on the ice. The Bruins coaches practiced what they preached by donning masks for the entirety of practice and the B’s players did the same by wearing masks inside the dressing room before getting out on the ice.

Let’s hope every other NHL team does the same thing across the league.

“I addressed the guys. My message is that I’m not looking at this as training camp. I’m looking at this as ‘Return to Play camp’ or ‘Return to Play’ practices. To me training camp is a different mentality where it’s the beginning of a long marathon,” said Bruce Cassidy. “This isn’t that case. This is the beginning of a quick return comparable to a sprint and that’s the way we want to look at it. The timing and execution of our practices needs to get up there as quickly as possible. That needs to be our focus every day.

"We have a group of hard-working guys. The conditioning part is something you normally monitor during camp and make sure guys are where they need to be. We need to find our game in a hurry. That was my message. Our health coordinator, our medical staff and Donnie [Sweeney] talked to our guys a bit in terms of the procedure. I think they’re getting used to it a bit. They’ve seen it now recently.

And the last message was about being responsible away from the rink. It’s not just you that you could [impact]. In essence, you could affect up to 40 or 50 guys, so let’s do our best to social distance and wear our masks when we need to be out. Try to limit contact. That was it and let’s get back to work.

Those are the kinds of messages that should have been passed around in each of the 24 dressing rooms on Monday morning ahead of “Return to Play” camp.

The Bruins had a feel-good moment on Monday while finally getting back out on the ice together for the first time in four months. They hope to experience a few more of those along the way, obviously. The really good news is that the Bruins sound like they are ready to do everything humanly possible to see this NHL season through to the very end as safely as possible.

Doing that will be almost as satisfying as winning the Cup. Right, Bruins fans?   

First Bruins practice a step toward 'normalcy' for Patrice Bergeron

First Bruins practice a step toward 'normalcy' for Patrice Bergeron

BRIGHTON, Mass. — The first Bruins practice session in four months lasted for about 45 minutes and left everyone involved feeling pretty hopeful about the future for both the team and the NHL as the league embarks on a return to play plan over the next few months.

It’s going to take many things going right for the NHL to pull off the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs amidst a global pandemic. That much is obvious.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

But the Bruins went through a high-paced practice on Monday morning that felt, well, like old times as they ramp up for the next few weeks. Both David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase were missing as they finish off the self-quarantine protocol after traveling back to Boston, but, aside from the coaches wearing masks and an empty building aside from a handful of media, things felt almost normal at Warrior Ice Arena in Monday’s first Phase 3 training camp practice.

“Really good [to be honest with you]. I thought our guys had excellent pace. The execution was pretty good for a first practice. I know a lot of guys have been working and skating, but as a group with a lot of bodies out there I thought the willingness to work was excellent,” said Bruce Cassidy. “The guys were in a good mood. It reminded me a lot of our practices during the year. Guys were working hard and taking care of business, but they are also having fun and chirping each other.

“So it was kind of like where we left off in terms of the mood. I thought the overall rating of it, I really liked it. And the guys in the other sense of it were really happy to be back together. They enjoy each other and obviously were looking forward to getting back to work.”

The players also mentioned “normalcy” as a key word once they get on the ice on Monday after spending the last month skating in smaller groups at voluntary practices. Now they are on the clock with their full team and they’ll be headed to Toronto in a couple of weeks to begin playing games once again.

Patrice Bergeron had a perma-smile on his face that never went away during a Zoom call with reporters, and the joy was obvious at getting back to what they love to do for even a single day.

“100 percent. It was great to be back out there. Mask, no mask in the locker room, it doesn’t matter. It was nice driving to the rink knowing that it’s going to be more than 12 guys at the rink and that the whole group is coming,” said Bergeron. “We have dates set now so it’s a lot easier when you know you're leaving on the 26th.

Normalcy is something we’re all seeking through this pandemic and it was hard for everyone. I’m talking about just life in general. It was hard for a lot of people and it affected a lot of people in different ways. It’s one step toward a little bit more normalcy, I guess.

It wasn't exactly the same for Bergeron as he skated with normal linemate Brad Marchand and Karson Kuhlman with Pastrnak missing from the proceedings for now.

But let’s all hope that normalcy continues as the Bruins keep practicing as they add the rest of their roster players while building toward playing games in just a couple of weeks.