BOSTON - Tuukka Rask is not quite sure what the future may hold.
The 34-year-old netminder has set no deadline for when his career may come to an end, nor has he made any firm decisions or plans about where he may end up when that day inevitably comes.
For now, Rask is focused on one thing and one thing only: the present - and reuniting with the core group he has been alongside for over a decade to take another shot at a championship.
"I think it's as good as anybody else," Rask, who signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the club on Tuesday afternoon, said of the Bruins' chances this season. "The core group is still there. I think in the past few games, the team showed that they can play some real solid hockey against good teams. It's a long season so there's still plenty of games left.
"I think once we keep building in the right direction - like we always say, it's all about making the playoffs and then anything can happen. Looking forward to that."
That end goal was all that was on Rask's mind as he grinded through a lengthy six-month rehab process following surgery on a torn hip labrum last summer. Rask was realistic about the Black & Gold's aging core group, acknowledging that he's talked "from time to time" with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand about the dwindling window for them to capture another Stanley Cup together.
"I think the biggest motivation is to play with the group that I've played with my whole career and have another chance to win," said Rask. "That's about it…we're realistic that we're getting older and the window's closing. Whether that's a year, two years, three years, who knows? But it's closing and we know that."
While Rask was eager to get back to his longtime teammates, there were a bevy of boxes he needed to check before that could happen, forcing him to be extremely patient - which he admits is not one of his strong suits.
"There was no pain - that was what was told to me before the surgery that the rehab is fairly easy and pain free. It's just the patience," said Rask. "The first month or two months, you can't really do anything more than just lay on the table and let the trainer mobilize the hip and make sure that it doesn't stiffen up too much.
"I'm not the most patient when it comes to just waiting around and not doing things. That was the biggest challenge for me, for sure."
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Rask, the B's all-time winningest goalie, began skating again early in the fall and has been practicing with the Bruins since mid-December. Being around the team on a daily basis has, no doubt, helped him ramp up physically, but it also allowed him to remain close to the group, which will make an unusual transition period a bit easier.
"It's been good. It's been normal," said Rask. "I'm happy that it worked out that way that I got to rehab here and skate with the guys the past few weeks just so it won't be a shock for everybody when I show up one day and I'm back in the mix and I have to catch up from six months ago.
"I've seen the guys here along the way. We don't have a whole lot of catching up to do. I think I'm the only guy that has catching up to do with hockey. That will be my challenge."
Rask has never gone this long without playing a game during his 15-year professional career - his last game was Game 6 of the second round against the Islanders on June 9 - but he feels ready to return to game action despite COVID-19 issues wiping out his chance for a rehab start or two with the Providence Bruins.
"In hindsight, I guess it would have been nice to just go out there and get some kinks out," said Rask, who was scheduled to start for the P-Bruins last Friday night before Lehigh Valley was forced to pause their season due to the virus. "Then again, you've seen guys go down after injuries and then they get lit up for six, seven, eight goals. So, I don't know if that's gonna help you mentally either. There's always that. It's gonna be a mental challenge, mostly, anyways, come my next game.
"Then again, I've played enough games that I think I can overcome that challenge and hopefully play at my best. I expect to play a great game whenever that is. Whether that's realistic or not, that's what I expect, and we'll see what happens."
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said following Wednesday's pregame skate that Rask is likely to make his season debut on Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers if the backstop is feeling up to it. Rask said earlier on Wednesday morning that he feels he's been ready to go from a physical standpoint for quite some time. At this stage, he explained, the greater challenge will come from a mental standpoint.
"The plan was to come back a little earlier but then the COVID break kind of screwed that up. Physically, I'm ready, just making sure that I don't get too frustrated mentally," said Rask. "I think the challenge for me is usually everybody is on the same line when you start the season and you're gonna work your kinks out together but now when you jump in middle of the season it's a different situation."
If Rask does make his return to game action on Thursday night, Marchand believes it will give the Bruins, who have won five of six games, even more of a spark.
"He's obviously an incredible goalie and has been for a very long time in this league," said Marchand. "So happy for him that it's all kind of worked itself out and he's recovered the way he has. And there's no doubt it's going to help our team. He's one of the best goalies in the league for the last 10, 15 years. We're lucky he's back again.
"You're going to get a boost among your group when you have a player of that caliber - they're going to make an impact, they're going to help you win, they're going to make a difference every night that they play and he's going to do that."
Video: Rask signs one-year deal with the Bruins on Tuesday