When the Hurricanes play Thursday at TD Garden in Boston, they will do so against a Bruins team that will be without four players who have defined the Spoked B for the past dozen years.
Patrice Bergeron suffered an upper-body injury in Tuesday’s loss against Pittsburgh, the same game in which Brad Marchand lost his cool and wound up with a six-game suspension for attacking Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry. Neither will play against Carolina. Longtime captain — and the oldest player in the NHL — Zdeno Chara, now with the Islanders, moved on two years ago.
Then on Wednesday, goalie Tuukka Rask announced his retirement after struggling in his return from hip surgery.
“Those four guys you mentioned there, they’re the best of the best,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Thursday after the morning skate in Boston.
Even without those key pieces, Carolina doesn’t expect an easy time from the Bruins, who currently hold one of two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference and are a possible first-round matchup for the Eastern Conference-leading Hurricanes come early May.
“I expect nothing but a hard battle,” Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho said Thursday morning. “That’s a great team we play tonight, and they always bring high intensity. It’s gonna be a grind game, and we’re ready for that.”
The Hurricanes won’t, however, need to figure out the 34-year-old Rask.
The Finnish goalie won 308 games with the Bruins over his 15-season career, winning the Vezina Trophy in 2014 and finishing second in voting to Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck in 2020. He won a Stanley Cup in 2011 as the backup to Tim Thomas, but he didn’t play in that postseason. He reached the final as the starter in both 2013 and 2019, but Boston lost to Chicago in six games and St. Louis in 7, respectively.
Rask attempted to return this season for another run with the Bruins’ core, which has been bolstered in recent years by David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy. But he was unable to regain his form after rehabbing from this summer’s surgery, losing two of four starts, including being chased by the visiting Hurricanes after allowing five goals on 12 shots on the same night the Bruins retired Willie O’Ree’s No. 22.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) February 9, 2022
His departure from the league is particularly significant for the Hurricanes’ Finnish players who grew up watching one of their country’s stars become one of the NHL’s top goalies.
“He was one of the best players ever come from Finland and one of the better goalies in the league ever,” said Aho, who is a decade younger than Rask. “It’s awesome to see that somebody from the same country can have such a nice career.
“As a little kid, you need those role models to follow, to give yourself some extra confidence. … He’s always been a class act and a great competitor, a great goalie overall.”
Hurricanes goalie Antti Raanta is just two years younger than Rask but still looked up to the Bruins goalie.
“It’s kind of a sad year for Finnish goaltending because (for Nashville goalie) Pekka Rinne just retired and now Tuukka,” said Raanta, who is from the eastern coastal town of Rauma, about 500 miles from Rask’s birthplace of Savonlinna. “All those guys who I looked up to, who I was really excited to play against, and now they’re gone. So it’s a little bit sad.”
Raanta surprisingly started against his countryman just once in his career, winning in Boston when he was with the Rangers in November 2016.
“Sometimes when you beat your idols and the guys who you really look up to like that, it gives you a little bit more juice after the win,” Raanta said, “and I think that was that was kind of the case that time.”
While the Hurricanes franchise was 9-5-3 against Rask in regular season games, the Bruins goalie boasted a 5-1-0 record against Carolina in the playoffs. That included a sweep in the Eastern Conference final in 2019.
“He’s just a great goalie — not my favorite goalie to play against, obviously, the way he played against us in the conference finals a few years ago,” Aho said with a laugh. “He was lights out and probably one of the main reasons that they swept us. That tells you that he’s a great goalie.
“But I do remember scoring at least once on him. So that was a special moment for me, for sure.”