WILMINGTON, Mass. – Tuukka Rask returned to the practice ice for an optional skate at Ristuccia Arena on Thursday afternoon and was aglow with the fresh memories of winning a bronze medal for his native Finland. The B’s goaltender also refuted whispers that he was out partying the night before the big semifinal against rival Sweden for a chance at the gold-medal game. Rask was too sick to answer the bell and got replaced by Kari Lehtonen.
“No. We had a couple of beers around the NHLPA lounge during the two weeks, but that was about it,” said Rask. “What can you do? I could have played. But if you’re at 40 percent of your capacity, it doesn’t really make any sense when you’ve got two other great goalies on the team. That helped my decision to stay off. It didn’t matter who was in net, we were going to have a chance to win. No hard feelings on my end. That’s life sometimes.
“As tough as it was, you really got to enjoy [the Olympic experience]. It’s not the same kind of grind and pressure that it is here, and you feel rejuvenated and sharp coming back to Boston."
Instead, Rask shut down Russia and the United States in the playoff round, and forced eventual gold-medal juggernaut Team Canada into overtime before losing on an OT Drew Doughty goal. Rask finished 3-1 with a .938 save percentage and 1.73 goals-against average in the four games of the Olympic tournament and excelled behind a scrappy, disciplined Finland team that’s very reminiscent of his NHL address.
“Our system was really similar to us here. It really helps a goalie when a team plays good defense in front of the goalie, and is tight around the net,” said Rask, who brought the bronze medal to the B’s practice rink with him on Thursday. “I thought we really got better as the tournament went along. I don’t think anybody picked us to win the medal when you looked at the best four teams. But we really played our system. We did some great things.
“[Teemu Selanne] had a little speech before the [US] game and said ‘For a country like Finland, you don’t expect those opportunities to come every four years. When they come we really need to make the most of them, and to really play for each other.’ That’s something I’ve seen here [with the Bruins] but never with a national team like that. Everybody played for each other, but especially for Teemu in his last tournament so he could finish out on the right note.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien said after practice that he was undecided as to whether Rask will get the start against the Washington Capitals on Saturday afternoon, but the team has done whatever it can to give the Finnish netminder some rest coming back from Sochi. One thing is certain: Rask will get plenty of healthy nights off in the near future with 17 games in 31 days in March, along with eight back-to-back games in the season’s final six weeks.