BRIGHTON, Mass – The Boston Bruins are expecting to return to some level of normalcy with their goaltender now that Tuukka Rask is on track for a return to game action. Rask and rookie netminder Jeremy Swayman were the two goaltenders at Bruins practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Wednesday morning with rookie Dan Vladar having been sent back to Providence this week.
The 34-year-old Rask has played exactly one period of hockey since March 7 after developing a suspected back injury toward the end of a 1-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils. Rask felt like he was healthy enough to play 18 days later on March 25 but made six saves in one period of work before suffering a setback with his injury. Shortly afterward Jaroslav Halak was unavailable after landing on the COVID Protocol list, and that’s left rookies Vladar and Jeremy Swayman to impressively pick up the slack over the last couple of weeks.
Now it’s almost three weeks later and Rask is set to give it a go again on Thursday night against the New York islanders with less than a month to go in the regular season.
“[Rask] should be ready [to start on Thursday] assuming there’s no setbacks,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “So, he should be ready to go. Tuukka has been out a while and it’s not a switch. I don’t care who you are or what position you play, you need reps. There are very few guys that can just jump back in there after missing time.
“I think Tuukka will need his share [of game reps]. A lot will depend on his play, how he feels and where’s at physically, and how his timing is, most importantly. Those are some things we’re going to need to look at.”
The Bruins are obviously hoping that Rask can get through the game without any further issues and began ramping up toward the Stanley Cup playoffs in the final few months of his contract with the Black and Gold. Another re-aggravation of the injury could put Rask’s readiness for the playoffs in jeopardy and really began to change postseason goaltending plans for the Boston Bruins.
Perhaps just as interesting is the backup situation for Boston. Swayman’s continued presence with Boston and Jaroslav Halak’s absence due to COVID-19 protocols has opened the door for the rookie to earn an enhanced role down the stretch and into the postseason.
The 23-year-old has been brilliant since getting called up from Providence with a 3-1-0 record, a 2.22 goals against average and a .926 save percentage while making all the saves he’s supposed to, and then some.
When asked if there’s a chance for Swayman to play his way into a bigger role with the Bruins down the stretch and into the postseason, Cassidy answered in the affirmative based on “what gives the Bruins the best chance to win.”
“Yes. To answer the Swayman question, he certainly looks composed,” said Cassidy. “[Tuesday night] was another game where he stopped the ones he was supposed to, and he made a few extra [saves] to give his team a chance to win. Keep in mind that we don’t have a crystal ball for what’s going to happen in three weeks.
I don’t know how Jaro is going to recover from his time off the COVID list and how is time off going to treat Tuukka. Will it treat him well where the time off was good and he finds his game quickly. Or is it going to take a while? There are a lot of questions that go into it. But we haven’t ruled [Swayman] out as a guy that could see some extra starts. We didn’t anticipate it, but that’s just performance-related.”
With the Boston Bruins goaltending picture still very much to be determined based on all of that, here’s the line combos and defense pairings from Wednesday’s practice with the missing Kevan Miller (load management) confirmed to play on Thursday as well: