BOSTON - The Bruins returned to work on Thursday morning after a nine-day break with plenty of jump in their step - and their No. 1 goaltender back in tow.
Tuukka Rask was a full participant in the session and is expected to be back between the pipes on Friday night against the Winnipeg Jets after sitting out three games with a concussion before the team's bye week. The 33-year-old was injured on Jan. 14 in Columbus when he took a blindside blow to the head from Blue Jackets forward Emil Bemstrom.
"I had motion sickness, very bad motion sickness for the first two days," Rask said following Thursday's practice at Warrior Ice Arena. "That was different. My headaches were not too bad. But sat in the car and then just started walking and [things were] kind of spinning a little bit. That was different.
"Probably because, I figured, I got hit in the side of the head so it messed up my balance, but other than that I felt pretty good."
Rask, of course, had the benefit of a lengthy layoff, allowing himself to enjoy some time away from the rink without feeling the need to rush back into action.
"I think that's a positive," said Rask. "Had seven or eight days to really kind of don't think about hockey and just let your brain heal, body heal, and I think that's been beneficial."
Video: Rask Speaks On His Return To The Bruins Lineup
It was the second consecutive January that the Finnish backstop suffered a concussion. In the game before the All-Star break last season, Rask was also sidelined after being barreled into by New York Rangers forward Filip Chytil at TD Garden.
"Pretty similar. They're all different, but as far as the symptoms and timeline, I think it's pretty much the same," said Rask. "I didn't have to, like, sit in a dark room for many days in a row. I was able to live my life for the most part right after, so that was good."
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy was pleased with the way Rask looked in practice and was confident that the netminder would be ready to start one end of this weekend's back-to-back against Winnipeg and Minnesota. Cassidy went on to say that Rask, given he missed time with injury, would not need to serve a one-game suspension for skipping out on All-Star Weekend.
"Tuukka's looking great," said Cassidy. "League-wise, no issues there at all…I want to confirm with Tuukka after today's practice. It's really his first high-stress practice. Barring anything, waking up tomorrow, he'll probably be our starter tomorrow. If not, he's definitely going to play on Saturday.
"It's just a matter of if he's the front end or the back end. Normally I'd tell you, so a little just has to do with, we just want to make sure he's 100 percent on board or does he need another practice?
"That's kind of where we're going with who's going to start tomorrow or who's going to start Saturday."
Regardless of whether he starts Friday or Saturday, Rask is looking forward to what he expects to be another exciting stretch run.
"I think our mindset coming off this break has to be the same," said Rask. "We don't feel comfortable. Obviously we've got enough points so far that we're in a good spot standing-wise, but we're not going to feel comfortable taking nights off because everybody knows you have to find that groove going into the playoffs and feel good, feel like your game is in a good spot team-wise when you go into the playoffs.
"Obviously, we're not going to change our mindset at all, we're just going to build that for the next couple of months and then try to make a run again."
Video: Cassidy Speaks After First Bruins Skate After Break
Back to Business
Despite having to leave their tropical getaways behind, the Bruins were happy to be back in the groove on Thursday morning. With just 31 games remaining in the regular season, the stretch run is set to kick into full gear.
"It's always nice to be able to recharge the batteries and be ready for the last stretch, obviously the most important one," said Patrice Bergeron. "It was nice to spend some time with the family. Now we're back in it…there's 30 games left. It is good timing as far as recovering from the fatigue and all that. Look forward to the last stretch and ending the season on the right note."
Putting on A Show
While most of the Bruins were enjoying their escape from hockey for a few days, they did, of course, manage to catch pieces of David Pastrnak's MVP performance at the NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis. The NHL's leading goal scorer potted four - to go along with two assists - across two games in the 3-on-3 tournament.
"Great for Pasta, he had a great weekend," said Brad Marchand. "He's such a talented player and it's great for him to shine on a level like that. That's kind of what he is, he's a skilled player and that situation is great for his ability.
"He's got a great personality for it, has a lot of fun all the time. Great for the fans to be able to see that about him. He's grown into an incredible player and he just keeps getting better."
Video: Marchand Speaks To Media After Bye Week
Backes Won't Report
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney issued the following statement on Thursday morning regarding the status of veteran winger David Backes: "After speaking with David, we have agreed that it is in the best interest of David and the Bruins for him not play in Providence at this time. David is fit and able to play, but in order to preserve all potential options for both David and the Bruins moving forward, we have decided this is the best course of action."
Backes cleared waivers earlier this month but was afforded the same amount of time off as the rest of the NHL players for the All-Star Break and subsequent bye week before making a decision on his future.
Cassidy added that the 35-year-old, in the fourth year of a five-year deal, has not been suspended for failing to report to Providence.
Miller, Clifton Skate
Kevan Miller (knee) and Connor Clifton (upper body) both skated on Thursday morning before practice, but neither appears close to a return to game action. Miller, who has yet to play this season, is slowly ratcheting back up his skating.
"He's skating, hasn't had any setbacks on the ice so far," said Cassidy. "It's been minimal. It's not with the team, but, still, he's out there. His body's holding up, so I guess until he gets in with the team again it'll be hard to say he's making great steps, but right now he's sticking with his program which is a positive this year, he's seemed to have had a few setbacks."
Clifton is a "little closer" to a return, per Cassidy, with a mid-February target date on the calendar.
Thursday's Practice Lineup
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Danton Heinen - David Krejci - Karson Kuhlman
Jake DeBrusk - Charlie Coyle - Anders Bjork
Joakim Nordstrom - Sean Kuraly - Chris Wagner
Anton Blidh - Par Lindholm
Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo
Jeremy Lauzon - Matt Grzelcyk