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After leaving the 2020 playoff bubble to deal with a family emergency, there were many critics of Tuukka Rask who questioned his commitment to the Boston Bruins going into the 2021 season.
Additionally, Rask and his teammates headed into the 2021 season with a very different defense after the departures of long-time defense stalwart and team captain Zdeno Chara and reliable, puck-moving defenseman Torey Krug.
The impact that Chara had on the success of Rask (and Tim Thomas before him) cannot be overstated and although Chara was not the player he once was, him leaving left some very big shoes (literally and figuratively) to fill.
To fill the holes left by Chara and Krug, the Bruins rotated in guys like Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, Connor Clifton, and Jarred Tinordi.
Given the adverse conditions heading into the season, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Rask have a significant drop-off in performance.
Instead, despite the experimental youth movement on the blue line, Rask still had a very solid year in next for Boston.
Granted his numbers weren’t as impressive as the year before, but with the new faces in front of him, this was to be expected.
Once again backed up and given decent spells of rest by Jaroslav Halak, Rask looked ready for another long playoff run until a collision during a game against the New Jersey Devils.
In that game, Rask was leaving the ice to put an extra skater on and looked to be in significant discomfort before getting to the bench.
From that point on, Rask didn't quite look the same in net, and his performance also suffered.
Against the Capitals in Round One of the playoffs, the injury didn't seem to be much of an issue, but in Round Two, it certainly was.
Rask appeared to move gingerly throughout the series and his mobility seemed limited.
In Game 5, the injury (and poor performance) resulted in Jeremy Swayman having to come in to relieve Rask part way through the 3rd period.
Instead of resting Rask in the pivotal Game 6 in favor of Swayman, Cassidy rolled the dice and played Rask. And while Rask is certainly wasn't the sole reason why the Bruins played their worst game of the season that night, he didn't help matters either.
Many people after the game would question Cassidy for playing his #1 goalie in the elimination game, and felt Rask should have pulled himself if he wasn't 100%.
After the series loss to the Isles, we learned that Rask had been playing with a torn labrum in his hip, an injury that required him to have surgery earlier this summer.
For Rask, this meant he'd miss the first half of the season (at least), and for the Bruins, it left them with some big question marks in net.
Ultimately, the Bruins decided to sign Linus Ullmark this off-season to a four-year, $20 million deal, which essentially ate up the remaining cap space the Bruins had.
With Ullmark in the fold and a promising young goalie waiting in the wings in Swayman, questions have fairly arisen about Rask’s future in Boston.
Currently an unsigned unrestricted free agent, Rask would need a new deal to play in Boston again, if the Bruins choose to bring him back.
He’d also need significant rehab to recover from his surgery, and wouldn’t be available until 2022 at the earliest.
From this writer's point of view, I believe we've seen the last of Tuukka Rask in a Bruins uniform. That being said, an injury to either Ullmark or Swayman could change this.
If indeed Rask has played his last game as a Bruin, he will go down as one of the most polarizing figures in Bruins history.
Rask has consistently been one of the best goalies in the NHL since his career started, but he's never been able to escape his haters.
For years, some segments of Bruins fans have insisted that the Bruins would be better off without Rask.
If Ullmark and Swayman falter this upcoming season, maybe Rask's critics will realize how lucky Boston was to have #40 in net.