BOSTON -- Tuukka Rask is determined to make sure the extended time off before the start of the Stanley Cup Final doesn't affect him.
The Boston Bruins goalie has been at the top of his game during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he and his teammates will have had 10 days off before starting the Final against either the San Jose Sharks or St. Louis Blues at TD Garden on May 27. The Blues lead the best-of-7 Western Conference Final 3-2 with Game 6 at Enterprise Center on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS).
"It's only as big of a challenge I guess as you make it," Rask said after practice Monday. "Practice during practice and then take time off when there's time off. You know I don't think about how I feel. … So just stay sharp on the ice, do the work you need to do and play when the puck drops. That's about it."
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The 32-year-old leads the playoffs with a .942 save percentage. He has been instrumental in getting the Bruins to their third Cup Final in nine seasons with a seven-game series win against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference First Round and a six-game win against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round preceding a four-game sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the conference final.
He has won seven straight starts, allowing nine goals with two shutouts.
So it's crucial that the Bruins formulate and execute the right plan to make sure Rask doesn't lose his edge with four wins standing between them and their first championship since 2011.
"Yeah, I don't have a great answer to that. I mean clearly we'd like to run him right back out there, the whole group to be honest with you," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "But … we'll talk to him too as well. He knows what's in front of him, he's been around, he's a good pro. He'll have to kind of figure out for himself how to get dialed in each day so that come next Monday he's at where he feels 100 percent dialed in.
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"But like I said, I don't know if he'll have an easy answer for that either. … It is what it is, you're off, you lose a bit of sharpness."
Rask gained some experience coming back from an extended layoff earlier this season. He sustained a concussion in a collision against the New York Rangers on Jan. 19, the Bruins' last game before their mandatory five-day break before the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend. That break ran consecutively with the NHL-wide All-Star break. Boston didn't play again until Jan. 29, and Rask didn't play again until he made 38 saves in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 31.
But that break was a little different than Rask's current one.
"Yeah, well … it was awesome to go away with the family and sit by the beach," Rask said about the break in January. "I didn't do that this time. Like I said, it's only as tough as you make it for yourself. You just kind of take time off and unwind and kind of re-focus when there's time to refocus.
"But I played a lot of hockey in my career, so I think that helps. It kind of helps to stay even-keel. You screw yourself mentally if you're overthinking everything and you just kind of let things play out, and when it's time to play hockey, you play hockey. That's about it."
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Being home for so long without playing any games has helped Rask stay in a routine and rest.
"When you have small kids it's a pretty easy routine," said Rask, who has two daughters. "Go to bed early, wake them up early, go to school. … I'm happy to be home because it's been a tough few months, we've been traveling a lot. So you can see the positives, you can actually stay home for a while."
The Bruins had a plan for Rask to get less playing time when the season started. After starting at least 53 games each of the past four seasons, Rask made 45 this season. The plan for the regular season has obviously paid off, with Rask making every start since the playoffs began and playing some of his best hockey.
He trusts that Boston has the right plan for him now.
"Yeah, I think we have a good plan for the week," he said. "And I don't feel like I need to go practice every single day, but I don't feel the need to have too many days off either. We do it all year, we do it as a team, we go out and put the work in and when it's time to take some time off we relax. It's been working for us."
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