Tuukka Rask made the right decision for his family, his teammates, and himself. Yes, you read that right! Rask did not quit on his teammates, he did them a favor.
Rask didn’t just opt out of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs in the middle of his team’s first round series with the Carolina Hurricanes for himself and his family, he did so for his teammates too. If your Rask’s teammates, would you really want to be depending on a goalie that felt that way and didn’t want to be in the bubble, being the last line of defense to the Bruins allowing a goal? Would you want to realize this more as this series with the Hurricanes went on and suddenly find you and your team sent packing in the first round?
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) August 15, 2020
After making 23 saves in a so-so performance in the Bruins’ 3-2 loss in Game 2, Rask made it abundantly clear that his head, body and maybe even his heart wasn’t in the game.
“Considering I had four months off … I’m not in prime shape. But I’m trying to get there,” Rask said when asked if maybe he isn’t where he needs to be physically. “I’m just trying to have fun and play the game. I’m not stressing too much about the results and whatnot. You know, it’s August and I haven’t played hockey. So just go out there and have fun, and see what happens for me.”
When your starting goalie and 2020 Vezina Trophy finalist publicly says that he’s not concerned about winning and losing – and yes that’s exactly what ‘results’ are in sports – in the Stanley Cup playoffs, that raises a bright red flag similar to the ‘Take Warning’ flag on the Hurricanes jerseys. According to Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney though, that red flag was waving even before Rask’s peculiar postgame presser on Thursday.
“We understand completely where Tuukka is coming from,” Sweeney said in a Zoom call with the media on Saturday morning. “I don’t think it’s any big surprise to us, to be honest with you. We’re privy to information maybe before the rest of the public is, and this has been a difficult decision for Tuukka, but the Boston Bruins are in full support of why he made this decision.”
Sweeney was then asked if this came about in the two days since Rask’s postgame comments on Thursday or if it had been building up.
“I mean again he didn’t really give us an indication that this would absolutely going to happen,” Sweeney said. “In conversations with all of our players, you saw with Steve Kampfer making an early decision, you’re seeing players in different sports make family decisions, and during the course of the time up here it’s been increasingly more and more difficult for Tuukka to mentally stay where he needs to be and ultimately made a decision that he felt he had to be in a different place. And again, yeah, I think we all understand that these are trying times for everybody. The NHL’s done a fabulous job in protecting the players’ health and safety but the priority for Tuukka at this point in time rightfully so has to be his family and we support that.
He had been trying to battle through it. Mentally as we said this would be a difficult exercise and again, I don’t think I was entirely caught off guard by the ultimate decision because we had had conversations leading up to it. Obviously, you’re hopeful, you’re only a better team when you have your better players, but we feel very confident, Jaro’s been there and was on a ride last year, he knows what this team is capable of, and we’re supporting Tuukka’s decision at this point in time.”
The Bruins are definitely confident that Jaro Halak can carry the load and that and situations like this are why they re-upped with Halak on a one-year deal during the NHL Pause. In fact, my colleague Rob Simpson posed such a scenario like the one the Bruins are suddenly in, earlier this month and expressed that same confidence in the 35-year-old netminder who ten years ago took the Montreal Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Final. Ironically, Halak rewarded that confidence his team has in him and backstopped the Bruins to a 3-1 win in Game 2 Saturday with a 29-save performance stirring memories of that 25-year-old netminder who took the Habs on that Cinderella run ten years ago.
Going back to my original point though and what Sweeney said above. Do you seriously think that the Bruins would’ve been better off playing in front of a goalie that they know wasn’t invested mentally and maybe even physically? Rask detractors have long said that the team seems to play better in front of Halak or before him, former Bruins and current Dallas Stars backup Anton Khudobin. Well, now we will see and given that this is Halak – who has a solid playoff history – is between the pipes for the Bruins and not Khudobin, chances are the Bruins will be better off. They would not have been with a distracted Rask though and that’s why his teammates respect his decision.
“I think there’s validity in what you’re saying that now that the situation has been, there’s finality in it and Jaro’s our guy and again we’ve got to get a backup ready for Jaro,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said following Game 3. “There will be a little bit of competition in there. But at the end of the day as a coach you want to try to trust your players’ professionalism that they’ll be ready to play. I thought Tuukka practiced hard, played well for us the first two games against Carolina, so you know that part of it you got to be a little bit careful as a coach, a guy that’s a veteran guy in the League, had the run he had last year, Vezina Trophy nominee, that he’s a good goaltender and he’ll get stuff squared away and use this time wisely to do that here. But again I mean family comes first, and that decision was made. So yes then we move on.”
It’s baffling to me that people are trashing Rask and even more baffling is the mantra that because he’s paid millions or because he’s a pro athlete, he shouldn’t put his family first. Those same people would also be bashing Rask if he stayed and got lit up like a Christmas tree leading in Game 3 or later in the series and it led to a first round exit for the Bruins. The Bruins may still lose this series or they may not win the Stanley Cup but just like last season, it won’t be because of Tuukka Rask.