Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask opts out of NHL’s return to play

Don Sweeney spoke about Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask opting out to leave the NHL bubble in Toronto to be with his family, making clear that he has the full support of the team in this decision.

Hours before the Boston Bruins were scheduled to take the ice for Game 3 of their first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes, the club announced that veteran goaltender Tuukka Rask — who backstopped them through Games 1 and 2 — has opted out of the NHL’s 2020 post-season.

The 33-year-old netminder released a statement regarding his decision on Saturday morning, citing his desire to return home to be with family.

“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.

Rask has suited up for four games since the league returned from its hiatus, playing two round-robin tilts as well as Games 1 and 2 of the team’s first-round series with the Hurricanes.

The veteran posted a .904 save percentage over that span, winning one of those four appearances. He allowed three goals apiece in each of those two games against Carolina, while posting a combined 48 saves.

Speaking to the media Saturday following the announcement, Bruins GM Don Sweeney said the club supports Rask’s decision to return home.

“We understand completely where Tuukka is coming from. I don’t think it’s any big surprise to us, to be honest with you,” Sweeney said. “We’re privy to information maybe before the rest of the public is, and this has been a difficult decision for Tuukka, but the Boston Bruins are in full support of why he made this decision.”

Sweeney also elaborated on why the NHL’s return-to-play timeline prompted the difficult decision from Rask, given his family’s current situation.

“[For] all of our players, we knew this would be a mental challenge, especially players with families. In Tuukka’s case, he has a newborn at home with two other young girls, and he just felt that he needs to be home with them at this particular time,” Sweeney said.

“You can’t control the timeline of when the playoffs resumed. Give Tuukka a hell of a lot of credit for trying to persevere through this and initiate the process to come up and be with his teammates because first and foremost that’s what he wants to do.

“But the priorities are in the right order and this is what he has to do at this time.”

The former Vezina Trophy winner put up a .929 save percentage during the regular season before the campaign was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, netting the William M. Jennings Trophy along with Bruins netminding partner Jaroslav Halak.

With Rask leaving the bubble, the B’s now turn to Halak as their primary No. 1 option.

“Jaro is a pro and I think over the last two years we’ve been a hockey club that’s relied on everybody and Jaro’s been a big part of that,” Sweeney said of Halak’s readiness to take the reins moving forward.

“You know we’ve split starts — we’ve rarely played players back to back. 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 and Hurricanes meet for Game 3 at 12 p.m. ET Saturday, each club sitting with one win apiece through the first two meetings.

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