Tuukka Rask has opted out from playing for the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The goalie’s decision was announced Saturday less than two hours before the Bruins played the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the hub city for the East. Boston, with goalie Jaroslav Halak, won 3-1 and leads the best-of-7 series 2-1.
“I want to be with my team competing, but at this moment there are things more important than hockey in my life, and that is being with my family,” Rask said. “I want to thank the Bruins and my teammates for their support and wish them the best.”
Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said Sunday he reached out to Rask but did not know if he would consider returning to the Bruins at some point this postseason.
“You know we exchanged texts today, left him a message, so he’s doing well, his family is doing well, so that’s very encouraging for everyone in the Bruins organization,” Cassidy said. “As we said before, we support Tuukka, we wish him well, we want nothing but the best for him and his family. Should circumstances change there where he feels he can come back to the club, then I think we’ll cross that bridge when we come and see what it involves.”
Halak made 29 saves Saturday in his first Stanley Cup Playoff start since April 27, 2015, when he was with the New York Islanders. Rask had started 78 straight Bruins games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“We understand completely where Tuukka’s coming from,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said. “I don’t think it’s any big surprise to us, to be honest with you. We’re privy to information maybe before the rest of the public is. And this has been a difficult decision for Tuukka, but the Boston Bruins are in full support of why he made this decision.”
Sweeney said there was not a specific incident or family emergency that led to Rask’s decision after almost three weeks inside the bubble.
“I mean all of our players, we knew this would be a mental challenge, especially the players with families,” he said. “In Tuukka’s case, he has a newborn at home, along with two other young girls, and he just felt that he needed to be home with them at this particular time. Can’t control the timeline of when the playoffs resumed. Give Tuukka a [heck] of a lot of credit for trying to persevere through this and initiate the process to come up and be with his teammates, because first and foremost, that’s what he wants to do, but the priorities are in the right order and this is what he has to do at this time.”
Rask hinted at his struggles following a 3-2 loss in Game 2 on Thursday.
“Considering I had four months off, so not in prime shape, but trying to get there,” Rask said. “I’m just trying to have fun and play the game. I’m not stressing too much about results and whatnot. It’s August and I haven’t played hockey in forever. Just go out there and have fun and see what happens for me.”
Rask was 1-3-0 with a 2.57 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage this postseason. He lost each of the two round-robin games he started in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers; Boston fell from the No. 1 seed in the East to No. 4. A finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the goalie voted as best in the NHL during the regular season, Rask was 26-8-8 in 41 starts with a League-best 2.12 GAA, finishing second with a .929 save percentage.
In 93 playoff games, Rask is 51-42 with a 2.20 GAA and a .926 save percentage. He helped Boston get within one win of the Stanley Cup last season when they lost to the St. Louis Blues in the Cup Final in seven games, and was the backup to Tim Thomas when the Bruins won the Cup in 2011.
Rask took over as the Bruins starter in 2012-13 and prior to this postseason started every playoff game in 11 series, playing 99.5 percent of the time.
Rask, who has played his 13 NHL seasons with the Bruins, can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season. The 33-year-old has one season remaining on an eight-year, $56 million contract ($7 million average annual value).
Halak made 25 saves in a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Aug. 2 in the Qualifiers round-robin. During the regular season, he was 18-6-6 with a 2.39 GAA and a .919 save percentage in 31 games (29 starts).
“Jaro is a pro and I think over the past two years we’ve been a hockey club that’s relied on everybody, and Jaro’s been a big part of that,” Sweeney said. “We’ve split starts. We’ve really rarely played players back to back. Jaro is mentally and physically ready to step in and assume the role and, obviously, we hope that he rises to that challenge.
“But from the standpoint of knowing that there was always going to be a back-to-back and then we had another one thrown in there, so I think Jaro was well prepared to have an understanding that it was going to take probably in most situations that you’re seeing, a lot of the cases around the League where both goaltenders have been used anyway, even in the initial rounds.”
Rask and Halak shared the William M. Jennings Trophy as the goalies whose team allowed the fewest goals in the NHL this season (167; 2.39 per game).
NHL.com staff writer Amalie Benjamin contributed to this report