Tuukka Rask is always a hot button topic when it comes to the Bruins, especially during the playoffs. After Thursday night's 3-2 Game 2 loss to the Hurricanes, he ensured that button will get even hotter with some bizarre postgame comments.
It started when Rask was asked how he feels after playing back-to-back days.
"Considering I had four months off, so not in prime shape, but trying to get there," Rask said.
So, kind of weird to admit you're still not in prime shape, but maybe you give him some points for honesty.
It's hard to defend the second part of his answer, though.
"I’m just trying to have fun and play the game," Rask continued. "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."
Huh? We're talking about the Stanley Cup Playoffs, right? An elimination series? "Just trying to have fun" and "not stressing too much about results" and "see what happens" sounds like what you'd say about a pickup game, not a playoff game.
Let's continue. Rask was next asked about battles on the ice and Hurricanes players coming into his crease, but took his answer in a different direction, saying it doesn't actually feel like playoff hockey.
"To be honest with you, it doesn’t really feel like playoff hockey," Rask said. "There’s no fans. It’s kind of like you’re playing an exhibition game. Obviously, there are some scrums after the whistle. I haven’t noticed that they would be targeting me or whatnot. Things happen, people falling on you and whatnot. But it’s definitely not a playoff atmosphere."
Rask was asked a follow-up about the lack of atmosphere and how he's dealing with it a couple questions later.
"You’re trying to play as hard as you can," Rask said. "Obviously,you’re playing a best of seven series so there's going to be some battles going on and whatnot. 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. There are moments that, ok, there’s little scrums and what not. But then there might be five minutes and it's just coast to coast hockey and there is no atmosphere. It just feels like an exhibition game."
Dull? Like an exhibition game? Regardless of whether there are fans, it should be pretty clear that these are not exhibition games. Watching a lot of these games on TV, they look pretty darn close to normal playoff games in terms of the play on the ice and they certainly don't look dull.
Most players seem to agree, including Rask's own teammate, Brad Marchand. Marchand's press conference came after Rask's and he was asked about Rask's comments. Marchand hadn't heard what Rask said, but tried to give his goalie the benefit of the doubt and bail him out a bit.
"I think maybe he was just talking about the round robin games," Marchand said. "I didn’t see his comments but the round robin games for us were exhibition games. They should not be labeled playoff games. And those were ones that we were trying to prepare for the game. Maybe he was talking about that. 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 and at least we’re playing."
But Rask definitely wasn't talking about the round-robin games. The questions and his answers were clearly about this opening-round series against Carolina.
It's worth noting that for the most part, Rask was fine in Game 2. He gave up three goals for a second straight game, but all three Hurricanes goals were on great shots that pretty much no goalie was going to stop.
It's also worth noting that Rask is often laid back and generally pretty honest when talking to the media. His casual attitude in press conferences often doesn't match his intense focus on the ice.
But even if that really is how Rask feels, maybe this was one time it would've been better to keep it to himself. Instead, he's now opened himself up to even more scrutiny and criticism. You also have to wonder how his teammates and coaches are going to react to his comments. At the very least, it should be a wakeup call to guard against players lapsing into exhibition mode just because there aren't fans in the building.