Tuukka Rask faces tough task of staying hot during Bruins’ 10-day layoff

Matt Kalman
May 18, 2019 - 4:46 pm

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney’s not concerned that red-hot goalie Tuukka Rask is going to cool off during Boston’s 10-day break for the Stanley Cup Final.

“He’s in a really good place, a really good place mentally and physically and his routines,” Sweeney said Saturday. “He’s gone out [to skate] game days. In the past, he hasn’t. He’s gone out for specific reasons. I think he’ll continue to do the things. It’s just the game, to get into the flow of the game and speed of the game, you can’t ever simulate that, so there will be challenges, certainly.

“Tuukka’s in a really good place, and I expect him to return there.”

The Bruins will face the winner of the St. Louis-San Jose Western Conference final starting May 27. That series is 2-2 heading into Game 5 on Sunday.

Rask has a .942 save percentage in the Stanley Cup playoffs and made 59 saves on 60 shots in his last two games.

He has some practice dealing with time off, as Sweeney pointed out. Rask sustained a concussion in a game against the New York Rangers on Jan. 19, which coincidentally was the game before the Bruins’ bye week and the NHL All-Star break ran back-to-back.

The Bruins returned to action Jan. 29, but Rask remained on injured reserve and didn’t dress for the game against Winnipeg. However, he was activated and started their next game, an overtime win against Philadelphia during which he stopped 38 of 41 shots. He followed that up with a 24-save 1-0 shutout of Washington and a 28-save performance in a 3-1 win against the New York Islanders, starting a personal six-game winning streak.

He also fared well earlier in the season after his leave of absence, which kept him out of game action for seven days. He made 36 saves in a 1-0 overtime loss in his return to the crease Nov. 16, then played every other game over the next four and made 55 saves on 60 shots in his next two starts (a .917 save percentage).

Duplicating Rask’s post-break successes of the past will be difficult. One former NHL goalie coach told WEEI.com that the key will be “focusing on intensity freezing loose pucks and dealing with rebounds,” although most regular NHL practices don’t allow for that.

A couple former NHL goaltenders also weighed in when reached by WEEI.com.

“There’s not much you can do,” said Corey Hirsch, a veteran of more than 100 NHL games and now a Sportsnet analyst. “They have to give him time off and rest days, then in practice he will need game-situation-type drills. It will probably affect him in Game 1 [of the Final] for the first period, but then he will start to get his game back.”

Andrew Raycroft, the former Bruins goalie and Calder Trophy winner, who now does analysis for NESN, agreed that it’ll be difficult for the Bruins to replicate game situations in practice.

“The hardest thing after a layoff is finding pucks through traffic and dealing with bodies in front of you,” Raycroft said. “We’ve seen him make five or six saves the last two series he didn’t even see. That’s the rhythm that gets lost by not playing.

“They will try to recreate it in practice this week but it’s never quite the same."

Raycroft also noted that for the first time in six weeks Rask will be able to work on technique and get in other goalie-related work during practices as opposed to the quick sessions the Bruins have had while playing every other day since the start of the playoffs. Sometimes the Bruins have gone days without practicing at all.

As for the theory that the goalie might be most affected by 10 days off, Raycroft cited recent history to prove that Rask could pick up where he left off.

“I don’t think the goalie is most affected by the layover. We saw how good [Columbus’ Sergei] Bobrovsky was in Game 1 of the second round after a long layoff,” Raycroft said.

Bobrovsky made 13 saves on 14 shots while his teammates managed just four shots on net in the first period of Game 1, preventing what easily could’ve become a blowout.

The Bruins have to hope Rask can handle time off as well as Bobrovsky did.

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