Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask does not mince words. In a sport where fans and media treasure a rare candid sound bite in a sea of canned responses, that is an admirable personality trait. However, the Finnish netminder managed to raise the ire of a legion of black-and-gold faithful with comments he made following Thursday’s game 2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Rask told media in his post-game press conference that he was struggling to get into the playoff mindset with no fans at Scotiabank Arena. He said the playoff games so far have felt more like exhibition games and that he was approaching his starts with the goal of having more fun.
Certainly, these words can easily be construed as Rask not taking the games as seriously as he should. He even admitted he probably isn’t in top form after a four-month layoff resulting from the global coronavirus pandemic.
Taken at face value, it sounds like Rask is saying he did not do much to stay in game shape during the pause in play and that he isn’t all that invested in a long playoff run. These are poorly chosen words for sure, but they likely result more from a classic goalie trait of never trying to get too high or too low after a win or loss and less from a desire to pack it up and go home.
Telling It Like It Is
Rask was just being honest. Maybe his sentiments are even shared by teammates and opponents, but he is the only one who has expressed them publicly. It has to be difficult to get pumped in the unprecedented situation that is the 2020 National Hockey League playoffs. Consider the fact that fans watching on television hear the piped-in crowd noise and the network announcers giving play-by-play and color commentary of the game. The players on the ice hear none of that.
“You’re trying to play as hard as you can. Obviously, you’re playing a best of seven series so there’s going to be some battles going on and whatnot. But when you play at your home rink, you play at an away rink, and there’s fans cheering for you or against you, and that creates another buzz around the series. There’s none of that, so it just feels dull at times. There are moments that, ok, there’s little scrums and whatnot. But then there might be five minutes and it’s just coast to coast hockey and there is no atmosphere. It just feels like an exhibition game.”Tuukka Rask, quoted in an article published Friday by Scott McLaughlin of WEEI.
The team is introduced coming onto the ice before the game like normal. Except, it is to dead silence. When goals are scored, no one cheers. When bad plays happen, no one boos. No one is pounding on the glass from the stands. Fights don’t go as far as to amp up the team when a boost of morale is needed. The only sounds these guys are hearing is the chatter of the other players and instructions being sent in from the benches. That’s a lot like the average practice or scrimmage, and it has to be odd.
Of course, both teams are in the same strange scenario. And for the most part, once the puck is dropped the players seem to be focused on the play at hand, regardless of who may or may not be watching. That’s all well and good for skaters who are on the move and involved in every aspect of the play. But these comments were made from the perspective of a goaltender. This is the one player who never gets a shift change, who spends a large majority of a 60-minute game as an on-ice spectator.
Yes, these players get paid well to play a game for a living. But Rask is not complaining about his job. He is just saying it is not the same right now. And he is not wrong by any stretch of the imagination. No one’s life is normal right now.
Fans should also take into account the fact that these players have been living in “the bubble” for a few weeks now. If they hope to go far into the playoffs, as the Bruins absolutely do, they are potentially facing a couple more months of isolation. Their family and friends are not there to celebrate wins and help them through tough losses.
The players are spending all of their waking hours with the same group of guys for meals, practices, games and even recreational activities at league-designated safe zones. This goes well beyond even the longest normal road trip. Throw constant health monitoring and COVID testing in the mix, and it’s no surprise that lifestyle would be starting to get old at this point.
Rask wants to win hockey games. And his ultimate goal is to presumably bring home the Stanley Cup. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be there. He had the opportunity to opt out, the same as every other NHL player. He is simply searching for the usual motivation and he wasn’t afraid to say so.
The Great Tuukka Debate
Of course, anyone who follows the Bruins knows that there are two very decided camps within the fanbase where Rask is concerned. Bruins fans either love him or hate him. They either blame him for every goal and every loss or give him the benefit of the doubt.
Rask’s comments certainly did not help to endear him to the haters and that is completely understandable. It may be naive to think that what he said is anything more than what it sounded like. Maybe he doesn’t want to be there and is willing to sacrifice the ultimate goal in a Vezina-worthy season simply because it doesn’t feel the same.
One nagging recent memory gives some credence to the argument that Rask is not giving it his all right now. In Game 1, one or two of Carolina’s goals seemed like ones that a top-form Tuukka could have, or should have, stopped. But, the Bruins won the game anyway and those softer goals were soon forgotten.
Good To Know
If Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy has any doubts about the meaning behind his top netminder’s comments, it may not hurt to start someone else in goal in Game 3 Saturday afternoon. Jaroslav Halak is certainly capable of winning hockey games. Although it is impossible to know if he would put in some extra effort than what we’ve seen from Rask.
All excuses aside, the Bruins need to come together as a cohesive unit if they plan to make another deep playoff run. If there are in fact members of the team who are not willing to play their respective parts, it is probably best if that is discovered early on and addressed immediately. Still, it’s hard to believe that is the case with Rask.
I am a 46-year-old journalist living in the greater Pittsburgh area with my husband and two cats. I am a proud Penn State University alum. Hockey is life. Not much else needs to be said.