Tuukka Rask is standing by his, head coach Bruce Cassidy’s and goalie coach Bob Essensa’s joint decision that Rask start for the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the 2021 second-round series with the New York Islanders.
After allowing four goals (three on the powerplay) on 16 shots and then leaving a 5-4 Game 5 loss for the Bruins after two periods with what turned out to be a torn labrum, Rask’s status for the do or die Game 6 at the Nassau Coliseum on June 9 was in doubt up until game day. There was plenty of speculation that 22-year-old rookie Jeremy Swayman, who replaced Rask in Game 5 and allowed one goal on three shots, would get the nod for Game 6. Speaking on The Greg Hill Show and the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radiothon Wednesday morning though, Rask made it clear there was no way he was going abandon his team for an elimination game no matter how much pain he may have been in.
“Before the last game, we had a conversation with Butch and the goalie coach and he was basically asking me can I go and I said yes,” Rask explained to Hill and cohosts Courtney Cox and former New England Patriot and Super Bowl Champion Jermaine Wiggins. “That’s pretty tough. …you know what it’s like ‘Wiggy, if the coach asks, you have to be pretty banged up if you say ‘no’.
So, I felt good enough that I could play. Obviously, it’s a really tough decision, like I said, to say ‘I can’t play’ but I felt like I was good enough to play and it didn’t affect my performance in the last game. Obviously, there’s all sorts of medicines you can take to kind of numb the pain up. Too bad we lost but it didn’t affect my performance I felt.”
Not surprisingly, the same critics and keyboard warriors that blasted Rask for leaving the bubble in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, were all over Rask again after the Boston Bruins were eliminated with a 6-2 loss in Game 6. Rask allowed four goals on 26 shots and a year after knocking him for choosing to be with his sick daughter back in Boston over his teammates in the bubble, were out in full force again saying Rask shouldn’t have played if he was hurt. Rask has been a lightning rod for that hypocritical criticism and has grown to accept that unless he wins a Stanley Cup as a starter for the Boston Bruins, he will never get the full respect he’s earned.
“Not really,” Rask replied when asked if the hate gets to him. “We don’t really think about it. We make the decisions on what’s best for you and your team. You can’t really think of the fans at that point, but like you said, you’re gonna lose anyway no matter what you do. I think you grow into it. I started playing goalie when I was three or four years old so I realized that it’s on you most nights and then it’s part of the territory.
Earlier in my career, I think I took more pressure and kind of put more pressure on myself to perform. It was kind of like listening to what people may think and not think, and then once you learn that doesn’t do any good for you, you kind of just learn to let that go and focus on your job. You know what’s going to come; there’s gonna be good, there’s gonna be bad, and trying to push that aside. So, you grow into it and then experience helps a lot. It’s just part of the territory.”
Throughout the years, Rask’s teammates have come to his defense, with forward Charlie Coyle calling the Rask haters ‘bozos’ a few days after Game 6 in June, and even his former teammates still have his back. Speaking after Rask’s segment on Wednesday ended, former Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton went to bat for his good friend.
“I will say this guys: I mean he’s a generational player and I’m not saying that just because he’s my friend,” Thornton said. “You’ve seen what he can do,” Thornton pointed out. “There’s not a lot of goalies that can do what he can do in there and he’s done it for a long time. So I’m pulling for him to come back and play for as long as he feels like he can.”
Thornton, the COO of the Florida Panthers, said he had lunch with Rask recently and tried to persuade him to sign with the Panthers for the 2021-22 regular season but Rask, as he did on the air Wednesday, made it clear he’s hellbent on retiring with the Boston Bruins.