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Bruins' Rask ready for heavy workload again if needed

by Matt Kalman /

MIDDLETON, Mass. -- With about a month remaining before the start of training camp, Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said he isn't any worse for wear after the most taxing season of his NHL career.

Rask played a career-high 70 games last season for the Bruins, who would've needed more from the 2014 Vezina Trophy winner had they not missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in eight years.

Surprisingly, the 28-year-old said it didn't take too long for him to recover from the grind of the 2014-15 season. Rask recently returned to the Boston area and Monday participated in the Putts and Punches for Parkinson's Golf Tournament, hosted by former Bruins forward Shawn Thornton, at Ferncroft Country Club.

"Not crazy," Rask said about his offseason recovery time. "I think obviously it's mentally draining when you're battling for that playoff spot and you play a lot of games in a row and stuff like that. You always feel kind of exhausted afterwards. But then when you do nothing for a week or two, then you're kind of like, 'All right, let's play hockey again.' You're kind of rejuvenated. I didn't feel like I took too much time than usual."

Rask ranked third behind Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby (73 games) and Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (72 games) in games played, but the Finn's statistics didn't reflect a tired goaltender. Rask had a 2.40 goals-against average and .922 save percentage and kept the Bruins in the playoff race until the last weekend of the season.

Because the Bruins came up short in their bid to continue their playoff-qualifying streak, major changes ensued. General manager Peter Chiarelli was fired and replaced by assistant GM Don Sweeney. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton and forward Milan Lucic were traded to the Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings, respectively. Forward Matt Beleskey was signed as an unrestricted free agent, and forward Jimmy Hayes was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers for forward Reilly Smith.

Rask, who is signed through 2019-20 at a salary-cap charge of $7 million, has been with the Bruins since the 2009-10 season. The Stanley Cup championship of 2011 and the run to the Cup Final in 2013 are further in the past, and the 2014 Eastern Conference Second Round loss to the Montreal Canadiens and misstep last season have changed some perceptions of the Bruins.

Rask said he believes in what Sweeney and management has done and feels expectations internally will remain high this season. Along with Rask, the core group of defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, and wing Brad Marchand should be back in the lineup this fall.

"I think we've been through so many scenarios in past years, people put us up on a pedestal and, you know, pick us as the favorites. And then maybe now it's necessarily not the case," Rask said. "We know where we stand and when we talk as a team, and we practice and play as a team, we just try to focus on our own thing and not try to worry about what people on the outside say. But I think our approach has always been that we're doing our thing and we're doing as good as we can and see where it leads us."

Sweeney's plan for the Bruins' improvement includes more than changing some of the personnel. Through coach Claude Julien and his staff, the Bruins want to be a little more aggressive in all three zones in order to put pressure on the opposition while not abandoning the defensive structure that made the Bruins a model of defensive play in the League for the past eight seasons.

A change in style could mean more responsibility for Rask.

"Obviously the League and the game's changing, and there's always trends. And I guess you're trying to go with it and then set your own standards through that," Rask said. "That was something we felt like we need to improve on. As for goaltending, I may have to play the puck a little more, move the puck up the ice and stuff like that, but, I mean, my job never changes. I just try to stop the puck and stay out of the tactical stuff more than that. But it'll be interesting to see, because obviously it's going to be different."

Another change will be the backup goaltender. Niklas Svedberg left the Bruins as a free agent to sign with Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the Kontinental Hockey League this summer. It looks like the Bruins are going to set up a competition between 2012 first-round draft pick Malcolm Subban, 2015 Hobey Baker Award finalist Zack McIntyre and journeyman Justin Smith.

Subban and Smith, 26, formed the goaltending tandem for the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League last season while McIntyre was a junior at the University of North Dakota. Subban, who played a little more than one period in the NHL last season, is the only one of the three who has played in an NHL game.

Rask said he's sure something will be worked out between those three or by the addition of a player from outside the organization. Regardless, he's only concerned about what he can do to help the Bruins return to the postseason. If that means matching or surpassing his ice time from last season, so be it. There's no magic number of games he wants to play or thinks he has to play in order to be at his best.

"I don't think you can put a number on it, but a lot of things depend on how tight the games are or how many games you play in a row or stuff like that," Rask said. "Last year it happened to be 70. If it's going to be like that, it's going to be like that again. And we'll play it by ear."

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