Tuukka Rask doesn’t know what the future holds, if this will be his last season in the NHL or if there are more to come. But the goalie does know that he and the other remaining members from the Boston Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup championship team — forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand — don’t have much time left.
“We’re realistic that we’re getting older and the window is closing,” Rask said Wednesday. “[Whether] that’s a year, two or three years, who knows? But it’s closing and we know that.”
Rask, who had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip in late July, signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Bruins on Tuesday and is scheduled to make his season debut against the Philadelphia Flyers at home Thursday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN, SNE, SNO, TVAS, NHL LIVE). He backed up Linus Ullmark on Wednesday in a 5-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens at Boston.
The 34-year-old was an unrestricted free agent, having played all 14 of his NHL seasons with the Bruins. He was 15-5-2 with a 2.28 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and two shutouts in 24 regular-season games last season, and 6-4 with a 2.36 GAA and a .919 save percentage in 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Rask last played in a 6-2 loss at the New York Islanders in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Second Round on June 9.
His return bolsters Boston’s chances of winning the Stanley Cup. The Bruins are 6-1-0 since the holiday break and fourth in the eight-team Atlantic Division (20-11-2). They have played 33 games, tied for the fourth fewest in the NHL.
“‘Tuukks’ is obviously an incredible goalie and has been for a very long time in this league,” Marchand said. “Happy for him that it’s all kind of worked out and he’s recovered the way he has.
“There’s no doubt he’s going to help our team. He’s one of the best goalies in the League for the last 10, 15 years and we’re lucky he’s back again this year.”
But the future remains a question. Which makes the present all the more important for the three holdovers from the 2011 championship core. Rask and Bergeron each is signed through this season. Bergeron signed an eight-year, $55 million extension ($6.875 million average annual value) on July 12, 2013, and the 36-year-old has said he will not sign another contract during this season. Marchand, 33, is under contract through 2024-25, having signed an eight-year, $49 million extension ($6.125 million average annual value) on Sept. 26, 2016.
Like Rask, Bergeron and Marchand each has played his entire NHL career with Boston; Bergeron is in his 18th season, Marchand his 13th.
As for whether Rask will return next season, the goalie said he has not decided.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I haven’t made any plans for the future and I haven’t played a hockey game in a long time. So if I’m going to come back, I want to come back solid and start building on my game and get that rhythm back that I’m used to having.
“So that’s where my head’s at right now. I haven’t made any long-term plans yet. But we’ll see what happens.”
Rask has been clear that his reason for returning is to have another chance at winning the Cup. He backed up Tim Thomas when the Bruins won it in 2011 and was the starter for two runs to the Stanley Cup Final. Boston lost the best-of-7 series to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in 2013 and to the St. Louis Blues in seven games in 2019.
“The biggest motivation is to play with the group I’ve played with my whole career and have another chance to win,” he said. “That’s about it.”
Rask has been practicing with the Bruins for more than a month and worked out at their practice facility during his rehab even though he was unsigned. He signed a professional tryout agreement with Providence of the American Hockey League on Jan. 6 and was scheduled to start in the AHL the next day, but Providence had its next two games postponed because of COVID-19 concerns.
That left the NHL as the best option for Rask’s return. He said that though it would have been nice to use an AHL game as a steppingstone to an NHL game, he believed that he would be ready when the time came.
“I think it’s going to be a mental challenge, mostly anyways, come my next game,” Rask said. “But then again, I’ve played enough games that I think I can overcome that challenge and hopefully play my best because I expect to play a great game, whenever that is. Whether that’s realistic or not, that’s what I expect. And we’ll see what happens.”
It’s something that Marchand said he believes will give the Bruins an edge mentally. He likened Rask’s return to that of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov before the playoffs last season after he hadn’t played in the regular season because of hip surgery. Kucherov scored 32 points (eight goals, 24 assists) in 23 playoff games to help the Lightning win the Cup.
“You’re going to get a boost amongst your group when you have a player of that caliber, you know they’re going to make an impact,” Marchand said.
“You know they’re going to help you win. You know they’re going to make a difference every night that they play, and he’s going to do that.”
There is, after all, no arguing with his career: Rask, who is 306-163-66 with a 2.27 GAA and a .921 save percentage in 560 games (540 starts), is the Bruins leader in wins and is second in shutouts (52) behind Tiny Thompson (74).
Whether he can add another Stanley Cup championship to his resume, this time as the starter, is the question that remains, the one that Rask seems determined to answer in his dwindling time in the NHL.
He said he thinks the Bruins have as good a chance as any team at winning the Cup.
“The core group is still there,” Rask said. “I think the past few games, the team showed that they can play some real solid hockey against good teams. And it’s a long season, so there’s still plenty of games left.
“Like we always say, it’s all about making the playoffs and then anything can happen.”