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PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - APRIL 27: Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins in action during a game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins at PPG PAINTS Arena on April 27, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Boston Bruins won 3-1. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same.

And now, it’s here. Or should I say, Tuukka Rask is.

A free agent (really in title alone) for the first time in his career, the 34-year-old took his next steps towards his inevitable return to the Bruins by way of a professional tryout agreement signed with the Providence Bruins.

This, based on Rask’s updated timeline from last summer’s hip surgery, is the final step before he officially signs a contract and returns to Boston’s crease.

The Bruins are truly treating it as such, too, as Rask was made available to the media for the first time since he started working out on the sheet on at Warrior Ice Arena nearly two months ago.

And with Rask providing more than a sneak peek at what’s gone on and what’s ahead of him in 2021-22.

  • May 10, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) handles the puck during the first period against the New York Islanders at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

    Rask’s surgery was a hit

    Rask has previously said that he believes that this hip injury first popped up during the team’s first-round series with the Hurricanes inside the Toronto bubble during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Rask then played through it all of last season, with a pair of setbacks in March after some awkward movements, and it ultimately got worse as the pace of playoff games piled up.

    “It was the whole last season basically,” Rask admitted. “That’s where it really aggravated. It’s just one of those wear-and-tear situations. I think when you hit enough miles, your body just starts to break up on you, and I guess [with] goalies, hips are the first ones to go usually.”

    But the surgery was a success, and Rask has deemed himself pain free, particularly when it comes to his most important movement as a goaltender.

    “I feel great [now],” Rask said. “You know, the biggest issue for me was the catching of the joint and the pain that that created. So that’s all gone. And it makes a huge difference because every time I go to butterfly and get up, I don’t have to think about it locking up on me again and creating that pain.”

  • Dec 5, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) defends his goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

    Rask isn’t expecting a long stay in Providence

    If you’re trying to catch Rask in Providence for the first time since 2009, Friday night was probably your best bet, as Rask was expected to get the start against Lehigh Valley. But then the AHL announced postponements, delaying Rask’s rehab assignment.

    But either way, no matter when it officially happens, Rask isn’t expecting a long stay in The A.

    “Just one or two,” Rask said when asked how many games he think he’d need before rejoining the Big B’s. “I mean, it all depends on how I feel tomorrow, tracking the puck and what not. Physically, I feel great. You know, obviously, it’s been a while since game action, so we’ll get tomorrow’s game and then we’ll see what happens after that.

    “Moving forward next week, I should be with the big guys.”

    That said, the return to Providence has been a nice little trip down memory lane for Rask.

    “Driving in today, I didn’t get lost. That’s a start,” Rask quipped. “Not a whole lot has changed around the rink, I’d tell you that. But the locker room is nicer.

    “I think the favorite memories [in the AHL] are just, you know, we had really tight groups of guys during my time here and in AHL standards, we had a really veteran groups, so we had a lot of fun together off the ice as well as on the ice. So those were the most fond memories. And, you know, you’re a 20-something and coming in and you got a lot of veteran guys who have seen a lot of AHL games and NHL games in my time then. They took us really, really good care of us young guys. And, you know, we had a great times on and off the ice.”

    But, should we hide the milk crates?

    “If we want to see some ESPN Not So Top 10 highlights again, I might have to pull something out of my hat,” Rask joked. “[P-Bruins coaches said], ‘Hey, if some young guy tries to do something crazy out there, don’t lose your cool.’ I didn’t give him any promises. I’ll have to find out tomorrow.”

    Rask had 60 wins and a .911 save percentage in 102 games with Providence from 2007 through 2009.

  • Mar 25, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA;Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) during the first period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Mar 25, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA;Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) during the first period at Amalie Arena. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

    There’s no time like the present

    Rask has been candid about his future really since Day 1. He’s not sure how much longer he wants to play. He did admit that he wasn’t interested in retiring last year, sure, but it doesn’t sound like this return is coming with any sort of revised career plans in terms of his NHL shelf life.

    “Not at this point,” Rask said when asked if he’s thought about how much longer he wants to play. “I’m just trying to come back and get myself back into game shape and depending how I feel, we’ll look at that when the time comes. But I haven’t really thought of that longer than this week or next.”

    The Bruins, by the way, recently committed $20 million over the next four years to Linus Ullmark, and they believe they have their goalie of the future in the mix with Jeremy Swayman. That (seemingly) works against the idea of Rask spending another half decade with the franchise.

    But the working relationship seems to be in good shape for the present, which is really all the Bruins, with the age of their core and their recent financial commitments, can be worried about.

    “I had a good meeting with Sweeney after last year and we talked for a while there and the biggest point for me was that if I feel great, I want to try to come back,” Rask said. “If I heal properly, I want to try to come back. And the only thing at this point I want to do is want to help out.”

  • Oct 26, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) is congratulated by center Patrice Bergeron (37) after their 3-0 win over the St. Louis Blues at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

    Rask had no interest in testing the market

    Rask, a career-long Bruin and the franchise’s all-time wins leader, has made it clear again and again that he has no interest in playing for another team.

    This year was indeed proof, too. There’s no shortage of contenders who could have used Rask’s services — Colorado, Edmonton, and even Pittsburgh to a certain degree come to mind as contenders that could have used a goaltender of Rask’s caliber — but Rask remained committed to Boston.

    Why?

    “I didn’t want to flirt with the opportunity to go anywhere else because, it’s a business like everybody knows, but for us players, when we’ve had a team like the Bruins and basically a bunch of us have grown up together here, you kind of feel a brotherhood and you don’t want to leave guys on bad terms,” Rask offered. “So I just wanted to try to come back, be helpful and, maybe finish it off with a bunch of those guys who I’ve played with my whole career.”

    That brotherhood and clear desire to stay has also made contract talks a bit easier, which was always going to be case, with Rask outright admitting that he was going to be a ‘cheap’ goalie this time.

    “We have a plan in place, Rask, who has made over $60 million in his NHL career, said of hammering out a contract. “It shouldn’t be an issue.

    “I’m not looking for, you know, a big contract like I’ve said before. I just want to come and help out the guys and do my part that way.”

  • Dec 2, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) and Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) celebrate after a shutout win against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

    What does it all mean for the Swayman-Ullmark duo?

    Goaltending has quickly become the least of the Bruins’ concerns.

    In fact, since the start of December, Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark have posted a combined 6-2-2 record, and have seriously upped their game. Two of 40 goaltenders to make at least five appearances since Dec. 1, Swayman ranks fourth in save percentage (.939) among that group of 40, while the 6-foot-4 Ullmark ranks 10th with a .926 save percentage.

    Now the Bruins are throwing Rask back into the mix. That could be a little awkward.

    But this potential return is nothing new, as explained by B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy.

    “The obvious is that this is a world class goalie that’s getting closer and closer,” Cassidy noted. “We sat down with Jeremy and Linus at the start of the year before Opening Night [and] kind of spelled out what Tuukka’s plan would be here. And the focus was on Ullmark and Swayman first. They were Boston Bruins. Tuukka is a great pro and was going to use the facility and rehab and see where it led. He had a timeline. I think everyone was aware of, including those two, that he may or may not come back and play. So they knew from day one.”

    Cassidy also noted that nobody ‘walked out of the room’ when that conversation first went down.

    That was October. And it’s now January, the B’s are beginning to find their game in net, and Rask has been sharing the room with the team’s current one-two for the last month and change.

    So, did that require a conversation between the three goalies?

    “I didn’t,” Rask said when asked if he talked with the Swayman-Ullmark duo before signing his PTO with Providence. “I think it’s been pretty clear that, I’m still not signed with the team, so I just tried not to be a distraction and not take time away from them. And you know, they’ve been so nice to me, sharing the net a lot in the past couple of weeks and kind of like, letting me get back in there, too. And I didn’t feel like I needed to go talk to them. Maybe we’ll have a conversation next week, who knows.”

    As the B’s schedule ramps up to an insane degree, it’s entirely possible (if not probable) that the Bruins will need all three goalies. Swayman is in his first 82-game season, Ullmark’s battled injury bugs throughout his career, and Rask is coming off hip surgery. The Bruins also have options with the taxi squad through the All-Star break, and Swayman has minor-league options.

    It could very well be a situation where the B’s turn an obstacle into a potential strength.

    “Having one net for three goaltenders, if that’s the case, will be a challenge and we’ll figure it out,” Cassidy noted. “But at the end of the day, we’ll do what’s best for the Bruins. And as for the other two, I think it’s just human nature that as Tuukka gets close, you’re going to look over your shoulder a little bit. It can be good competition or it can go the other way where they start worrying too much.

    “Now we’re getting closer to it. So hopefully everyone plays well and it’s a good problem to have.”