BOSTON - The Bruins return home on Thursday night for a tilt against the surging Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden, but they will do so without the services of their ace netminder. Tuukka Rask, concussed after taking a blow to the head in Columbus on Tuesday night, was placed on injured reserve and will not be eligible to return for at least seven days.
With their No. 1 goalie on the self, Jaroslav Halak will start between the pipes against the Penguins - and likely for the remaining three games before the All-Star Break.
Daniel Vladar was recalled from Providence on an emergency basis to serve as Halak's backup, getting the call over fellow P-Bruins back stop Max Lagace. The 22-year-old Czech native is 6-5-0 with a 1.84 goals against average and .935 save percentage in 12 games this season.
"Right now, we're gonna go day-to-day," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said of his goalie rotation. "But we have a lot of faith in Jaro. Right now, his game is not where it was at the beginning of the year, but we like what Jaro brings and maybe this opportunity gives him a little juice.
"Vladar's played well, that's why he's up here. Do we hesitate to put him in if we thought he'd give us the best chance to win? No. But the schedule's allowed us here - Thursday, Sunday, Tuesday - to use Jaro and he should still be fresh if need be."
Rask was at Warrior Ice Arena on Thursday morning, but did not take part in any on-ice activities. Cassidy said that Rask was, "doing better than he was in Columbus on Tuesday… he was here this morning and feeling better, but still off."
Cassidy was unsure if Rask will still be punished by the National Hockey League for opting not to attend the upcoming 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis, given that he is unlikely to be healthy enough to participate anyway.
Rask announced on Monday in Philadelphia that he would skip the festivities, leading to a one-game suspension from the NHL at some point around the break.
"That's a real good question," said Cassidy. "If he's on IR on Tuesday, if he's able to come off on Monday, would Tuesday be the day [for the suspension]? I think that's a good question that I need to have with [Bruins general manager Don Sweeney] on Monday.
"If he's injured and doesn't go to the game, does that mean the suspension is gone because he got injured in the meantime or because he already announced? It's actually an interesting [question]…but we have a few days to figure that one out, whether he'll actually have to miss now."
Cassidy was also asked about the outside criticism regarding the Bruins' lack of response to the blow to Rask's head delivered by Columbus forward Emil Bemstrom. Boston's bench boss said that he was not concerned about his players' ability to stick up for each other.
"I do believe that this team plays together, sticks together, has been accountable for years," said Cassidy. "We're not the same makeup we were in maybe the '70s or 2011, for that matter. We've tried to change our roster - that's Donny and I both - we've had discussions, who we've drafted…I believe in this room if anything happens the guys will be together.
"I think the incident the other night, if I could be perfectly honest with you - nobody knew what the hell happened at first…we addressed it between periods and a couple players tried to engage [Bemstrom].
"I think there's teams that are less physical than us, I think there are a few that are more. We're trying to be the best of both worlds with our roster. We'll see where it leads us…I'm comfortable with the guys in the room sticking up for each other.
"Could we use more of it some nights? We could use maybe someone to pull it out of us. That's up to the coach sometimes to pull it out of the players and sometimes it's a player that's a bit of a pest…we'll address that internally."
Ritchie Waived, Kuhlman Recalled
After posting two goals and four assists in 27 games, Brett Ritchie was placed on waivers for the purpose of assignment on Wednesday. The winger cleared on Thursday afternoon and will report to Providence.
"His overall play since we signed him has been inconsistent," said Cassidy. "We feel he's had some good games, done some of the things we asked or expected to help us win. Other times, we had to push him to get there. The timing of some of our guys getting healthy has something to do with it."
With Ritchie in Providence, Karson Kuhlman was recalled and will be in the lineup against the Penguins. Kuhlman has not played with Boston since Oct. 19 when he suffered a right tibia fracture after blocking a Jake DeBrusk shot in Toronto.
"He's a guy that played well for this team last year," said Cassidy. "He's a completely different player than Brett Ritchie in terms of their stature. We like Kuhlman's ability to play with pace, to help on the forecheck, adds to the penalty kill…and a guy that we've watched develop for the last year and feel can help us."
The 24-year-old returned to the ice in late December and was sent to Providence to work on his conditioning. Kuhlman played four games for the P-Bruins, notching two goals and an assist.
"It was good, was great getting into a few games and getting the timing back and the conditioning," said Kuhlman. "I thought we did a great job of getting me as prepared as possible to play in games. Just want to help this team win."
Krejci A Game-Time Decision
David Krejci left morning skate early after taking a few shots on net and is a game-time decision with an upper-body injury, per Cassidy. If Krejci is unable to play, Par Lindholm will slot into the lineup.
"Krejci tried to skate, went off the ice," said Cassidy. "Didn't feel comfortable. Not extremely hopeful as a coach that he's gonna be able to do it in six hours. But there's a lot of guys that have missed morning skate and gone out. We'll make that evaluation tonight."
The Penguins are surging, having posted four consecutive victories and a 15-3-1 record since Dec. 4. Overall, Pittsburgh (29-12-5, 63 points) is second in the Metro Division, 4 points behind the Washington Capitals.
Pittsburgh also received a massive boost on Tuesday night with the return of captain Sidney Crosby following a 28-game absence after core muscle surgery. Crosby picked up four points (goal, three assists) in the Pens' win over Minnesota.
"I don't expect anything different from them from what we've seen in the past," said Patrice Bergeron. "It's a team that competes hard and also has high-end talent. You need to be on your toes every time you're on that ice and come ready to play or else you'll look silly.
"That's what we're expecting. We expect a tough game, a tough matchup and a team that is playing very good hockey right now."
Despite missing 13 games with injury, Evgeni Malkin leads the Penguins with 47 points (15 goals, 32 assists) in 33 games. With Jake Guentzel (20 goals) sidelined by injury, Bryan Rust paces Pittsburgh with 19 tallies.
Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry, named to the Metro Division All-Star team, is 16-6-1 with a 2.12 goals against average and .930 save percentage.
Wait, There's More
- Matt Grzelcyk will return to the lineup after sitting out Tuesday's loss in Columbus as a healthy scratch.
- Anton Blidh practiced with the team on Thursday morning as he continues his conditioning stint following preseason shoulder surgery. "He's another guy that's been down in Providence paying his dues that we feel may be able to add some spunk to our lineup and maybe drag us into a few of these battles. That's how Anton plays. He's not far [from a return]," said Cassidy.
- David Backes took a maintenance day and did not participate in morning skate, per Cassidy.
- Rask will be honored with a ceremony marking his 500th NHL game prior to Thursday night's contest against Pittsburgh. Fans are encouraged to be in their seats by 7 p.m.