BOSTON (AP) — Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask has opted out of the team’s playoff run to be with his family.
The defending Eastern Conference champions announced the decision Saturday morning, less than two hours before Game 3 of their playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“I want to be with my teammates competing, but at this moment there are things more important than hockey in my life, and that is being with my family,” Rask said in the statement. “I want to thank the Bruins and my teammates for their support and wish them success.”
A Vezina Trophy finalist who won the NHL’s top goaltender award in 2014, Rask is the highest-profile player to opt out of the return to play from the coronavirus pandemic shutdown. After leading Boston to the Stanley Cup Final last season, he led the NHL with a 2.12 goals-against average and was second in save percentage and shutouts.
General manager Don Sweeney said during a conference call 80 minutes before Saturday’s game that Rask left the NHL’s bubble in Toronto to be with his wife and three young children, including a newborn.
“He had been trying to battle through it,” Sweeney said. “We’re fortunate that his family is all healthy, and they’re going to have their dad back to be around on a regular basis is exactly what Tuukka needs to do at this point in time.”
Jaroslav Halak was in goal for Boston against Carolina in Game 3 of the series, which was tied 1-1. Halak started 29 games and posted a 2.55 goals-against average in the regular season.
“Jaro is a pro,” Sweeney said. “Jaro is mentally and physically ready to step in and assume the role and obviously we hope that he rises to that challenge.”
The Bruins finished the pandemic-shortened regular season with the best record in the league, but they have won just one of five games since returning to play in Toronto. After a 3-2 loss to Carolina on Thursday night that evened their best-of-seven series at one game apiece, Rask complained that the fan-free playoffs lacked the usual intensity.
“It doesn’t feel like playoff hockey out there. There’s no fans, so it’s kind of like an exhibition game,” he said. “It just feels dull at times.”
Sweeney acknowledged on Saturday that Rask had been struggling.
“I think you can rightfully infer that Tuukka was having some tough time being away in this environment,” the GM said.
“Let’s make no mistake about it: The stakes are high and the players are invested and Tuukka in his own right felt that he needed to be elsewhere rather than being here in this current situation,” Sweeney said.
“He’s the same goaltender that went to the Stanley Cup Final in a Game 7 last year and he’ll be the same player when we get up and running again next year. But at this point in time the two aren’t related.”