'It's kind of like playing an exhibition game.' Tuukka Rask has a right to feel that way, even if others don't

Rask is taking online heat after lamenting the dullness of playoff games with no fans. What's wrong with what he said? It's an unprecedented hockey experience, and it's different for everyone.
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Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports

Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports

We may, as observers, feel a certain way about the Bubble Hockey experience. We may feel it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, that the hockey has been surprisingly great, that staggered games all day have been a gift and that anyone participating in the tournament should feel privileged.

But just because we feel that way or many players might feel that way doesn’t mean the experience has to be the same for every competitor. Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask sees it differently. And – deep breath – that���s very much OK.

Lest his comments get taken out of context, here is the full transcript of what he said last night.

The question on the Zoom call, after the Bruins dropped Game 2 against the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2, came from The Boston Globe’s Matt Porter:

“Tuukka, obviously playoff hockey is playoff hockey. I’m wondering if Carolina’s doing anything to cross the line when they enter your crease.”

Rask’s answer:

“Well, to be honest with you, it doesn’t really feel like playoff hockey out there when there’s no fans. So it’s kind of like playing an exhibition game. Obviously there’s some scrums after the whistle, and I haven’t noticed anything that they’d be targeting me or whatnot. Things happen. People fall on you. But it’s definitely not a playoff atmosphere out there.”

The followup from The Globe's Tara Sullivan:

“Tuukka, I did want to follow up on you saying it didn’t feel like a playoff atmosphere. How do you counter that? How do you get yourself ramped up? I understand it, but I imagine that’s not an easy thing to feel when you know it is the playoffs and maybe it doesn’t feel the same.”

Rask’s answer:

“You try to play as hard as you can. Obviously, you’re playing a best-of-seven series, so there’s going to be some battles going on and whatnot. But when you play in your home rink, you play in an away rink, there’s fans cheering for or against you, and that creates another buzz around the series. There’s none of that, so it just feels dull at times. There’s moments that, OK, there’s little scrums and whatnot, but there might be five minutes of coast-to-coast hockey, and there’s no atmosphere. So it just feels like an exhibition game. But we’re trying our best to ramp up, get energized and make it feel like a playoff game.”

THE TAKES ensued online after that, of course.

Rask deserves credit for opening himself up to criticism from keyboard warriors here. Some are already saying he was just expressing sour grapes after a loss. Some see it as a harbinger of a Bruins collapse after winning the Presidents’ Trophy if the goalie's heart does not appear to be in the competition.

But whether that’s true or not – and it probably isn’t – it’s Rask's right to feel how he feels. Yes, some NHLers suggest they block out the noise once the competition begins and they feel playoff-level intensity. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews said Wednesday he didn’t notice the missing fans once the play got going.

But just because some players achieve a supreme degree of focus doesn’t mean every player has to interpret this once-in-a-lifetime experience the same. Besides, Rask plays in a hockey-mad market, and you could make a case his comments were honoring Bruins’ fans.

So, please, Internet, don’t bite a player’s head off just because he took the time to express some honest, sincere thoughts about this unique experience. If you want NHLers to show their personalities more, you have to, you know, let them do it.

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