By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask is trying to kill me.
I’m officially convinced. This man does not want me to experience any sort of joy. He doesn’t want me to have a peaceful life. He wants my life to be one chaotic, unrelenting hellscape where everybody gets to go, “Hey Ty, how’s your boy looking these days?! Not so good, huh!” Defending this guy is a full-time job, and while it really shouldn’t be (‘ya bunch of crazies), I’ve embraced my life’s work.
But when it comes to Thursday’s postgame comments, basically brushing this entire postseason off as a big vibe-less whatever, and delivered after a 23-of-26 defeat, I gotta admit that I’m at a loss.
“To be honest with you, it doesn’t really feel like playoff hockey because there’s no fans,” Rask actually said into a working microphone and on camera after a playoff loss. “It’s kind of like you’re playing an exhibition game.”
Tuukka, what the actual hell are you doing? What are you saying? How has nobody come out with one of those gigantic candy canes and yanked you off the stage like a Looney Tune?
“You’re trying to play as hard as you can,” Rask added as I questioned everything around me. “Obviously, you’re playing a best of seven series so there’s going to be some battles going on and what not. But when you play at your home rink, you play at an away rink, and there’s fans cheering for you or against you and that creates another buzz around the series. There’s none of that, so it just feels dull at times. .. it just feels like an exhibition game.”
Tuukka, please. My mentions. I don’t need this.
Even if this is how he feels, he can’t say it. He just can’t. Not after a loss, and with your game still not where it needs to be for this team to win a Stanley Cup (Rask’s .904 save percentage through four ‘playoff’ games currently ranks 23rd in a field of 35). Not only that, but this is something every other goaltender and team is also going through, so it’s not going to fly. Well-intentioned or not.
And Rask’s own teammate (the same one who defended him from media that questioned Rask’s decision to wear a Boston Police hat in a pre-recorded television interview) didn’t agree with that take.
“Maybe he was talking about [the round-robin games],” Brad Marchand wondered. “These are playoff games; playoff atmosphere and we’re going to compete. We’re going to compete. It’s definitely different. There is no question. It doesn’t have the same atmosphere and there is no home ice advantage. It’s just straight up hockey at this point. Unfortunately, that is the playoffs this year.
“At least we’re playing.”
That is… worrisome. Even for a Rask Believer like myself. It’d be one of thing if the whole team felt this way. It’d be annoying, but you’d understand that it’s a team-wide mindset. But when the starting goaltender, and the arguably the biggest difference between a Cup and an early exit after a dominant regular season (even if it was four months ago), is saying this on his own? It’s alarming.
The Bruins are three more losses away from being bounced. It may feel like a long leash, but it’s a rough 180 minutes. Screw it, three bad periods. Forget that, Three bad goals. There’s simply not a ton of time for soul-searching to properly get yourself into a “No, these are the playoffs and these games are actually super-important” mindset. There’s a lot of talk of this veteran-led team knowing how to ‘flipping the switch’ when it’s winning time, but that’s all meaningless if the goaltender isn’t also doing that. On crap ice and with systems behind schedule, it’s the single most position in the entire bubble.
(Am I overreacting here? Perhaps. Likely, actually. This is The Rask Discourse after all.)
And somehow, this wasn’t even the end of it.
“I’m just trying to have fun and play the game,” Rask, still without the candy cane pulling him away from the microphone, said. “I’m not stressing too much about results and what not. It’s August and I haven’t played hockey in forever. Just go out there and have fun and see what happens.”
You’re killing me, dude. Not even softly with a song. Aggressively. With a billion car selfie avatars ready to recall ’10, ’13, and tell me so.
While psychoanalysis of goaltenders remains a deeply flawed endeavor, especially with someone as blunt and dry as Rask, these comments are basically free lunch to those who have repeatedly questioned Rask’s mental toughness. To them, this is why 2010 happened, why Rask’s two Cup runs have ended with defeats on Garden ice, why he tapped out for Finland in 2014 and again for the B’s in 2016. If Tim Thomas, the goaltender everybody desperately wants Rask to be, embodied the fire you wanted to see burn Boston to another Stanley Cup, Rask’s approach here was like parking all of Water Country on top of it.
It’s also putting a ton of pressure on Rask from here ’til the end of this postseason run. (As if he needed more of that.)
Every single goal against, which is already analyzed at legitimately unhealthy levels, is going to come with “but does it look like he cares?” Maybe that doesn’t bother Rask. He says he doesn’t read or listen to anything. I can’t buy that. He’s human. So maybe he’s so self-aware that he realizes the pressure game is already working against him no matter what after last year’s ending. (Channeling Brad Marchand’s evil genius, perhaps?) Nevertheless, it’s just one hell of a comment to throw out there at the first sign of actual, potential trouble. And one that leaves him with little to be gained.
The silliest, dumbest argument of our lives was just gifted new legs to piss down, and it’s killing me.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.