Tuukka Rask had a relatively smooth journey in his return to the Boston Bruins net.
Rask’s off-season hip surgery prompted some uncertainty. But a smooth recovery and rehab placed him on track to return to Boston’s net ahead of schedule.
The Bruins sent Rask to Providence after sharing reps at practice with Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman during his on-ice rehab. But a COVID-19 outbreak within the Leigh Valley Phantoms prevented Rask from suiting up for the P-Bruins for the first time in 13 years.
The Bruins signed Rask to a one-year deal worth $1 million on Tuesday. Two days later, the Finn returned to his crease against Leigh Valley’s parent club, the Philadelphia Flyers.
“It felt like I was home, basically,” Rask said of his first starting assignment since June 9.
Rask and his improved hip didn’t see much action early in his first start since Game 6 of last spring’s second-round matchup with the New York Islanders. He experienced the usual rust even with a relatively light workload through the first 40 minutes. Yet, the Bruins needed their all-time winningest netminder to back them up on a handful of occasions, including on a pair of second-period breakaways from Joel Farabee and Cam Atkinson.
The 34-year-old netminder couldn’t do much on Farabee and Atkinson’s tallies during the middle 20. The latter put the Flyers within one with a tip-in power-play marker on Ivan Provrov’s shot. The former evened things up with a tap in following a breakdown by Charlie McAvoy, resulting in an odd-man rush.
But Rask bailed the Bruins out through the final 40, beginning with the breakaway stops on Farabee and Atkinson.
Vintage Rask, indeed.
“In terms of tracking the game and playing the game and stopping the puck,” Bruins coach Bruins Cassidy said, “it looked like old Tuukka.”
The Flyers pressured Rask a little more during each 20-minute span — six shots in the first, nine in the second and 12 in the third. The Bruins got away from their game a little in the third, leaving the middle of the ice open more often than not and committing a pair of unforced delay of game penalties in a 70-second stretch. But Rask and company killed off Philly’s attempts for the equalizer during 5-on-3, 5-on-4 and 6-on-5 situations in the final 7:55 to secure a 3-2 victory.
Rask, who didn’t see his first shot on net until the 7:19 mark of the opening stanza, hardly looked rusty following a 218-day layover. Be it a routine stop, finding pucks through traffic or delivering the clutch save, Rask settled in with each ‘feel good’ shot he faced.
“The start wasn’t the easiest. There were no shots for the first I don’t know how many minutes. But luckily, there were a couple of feel-good shots and then you kind of get yourself in it,” Rask said following his 25-save outing. “It was a good first game from a goaltending perspective to get those feel-good shots and get yourself back in it.”
At times, he had to bail the Bruins out with three of their regular blue-liners in Connor Clifton, Derek Forbort and Matt Grzelcyk — all in COVID-19 protocol — out of the lineup. But he certainly had his share of assistance primarily in the form of David Pastrnak’s hat trick.
“I was so happy to have him back. You have no idea,” Pastrnak said of Rask’s return. “I told him I was going to get a hat trick for him before the game. He didn’t believe me.”
The hats came flying for the Houdini like Pastrnak. The “Tuukk” chants came from the TD Garden crowd each time Rask handled the puck.
More importantly, the wins keep coming for the red-hot Bruins with their ace goaltender back in the saddle.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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