BOSTON — The Boston Bruins are red hot, Tuukka Rask is back in uniform and all of a sudden, the East has another elite team in a conference full of them.
Brad Marchand posted his fifth career hat trick and Linus Ullmark stopped 24 shots as the Bruins handled the Montreal Canadiens, 5-1, on Wednesday night.
With Rask dressed as the backup after taking warmups to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Bruins rolled to their third straight win and their sixth in seven games. It was the third game in a row that they have opened a four-goal lead.
“I do believe this is closer to who we are,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said.
Rask’s absence, and some lengthy COVID-19 delays may have played a part, but after a sluggish start to the season, the Bruins appear to be right back where they belong. And still — because of the pauses — the Bruins have games in hand on a lot of East teams.
“I think the break helped us, came at a good time both mentally and physically, going back to work on things,” Cassidy said. “A few people get moved around the lineup, sparks a few other guys.”
Cassidy also addressed the Rask situation in the postgame, answering questions on if he thought, with the game vs. Montreal in hand, that the veteran might get some playing time.
“He’s ice cold on the bench,” Cassidy said. “I think he’d give me the stop sign.”
But not on Thursday, when the winningest goalie in franchise history is expected to make his season debut vs. the Philadelphia Flyers.
Rask won the Vezina Trophy in 2014 but played in only 24 games last season as the team managed his workload while he fought hip and back injuries. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip and remained unsigned as the regular season began, saying he wouldn’t play for anyone but Boston.
Ultimately, he signed a team-friendly one-year deal on Tuesday that will pay him $545,000. And when he took the ice for pregame warmups Wednesday, to the familiar cheer of “Tuuk!,” it seemed as if he’d never left. In the third period, with Boston leading 5-1 in the final minutes, the fans even chanted “We want Tuukka!”
“We know that he hasn’t played in months. He told us he’s ready to go, in practice, and he looks good,” Cassidy said in regards to Thursday’s game. “We’ll see where it leads. Whether he pitches a shutout (Thursday) or is average, we’re not going to make a judgment based on one game.”
To make room for Rask, the Bruins assigned goaltender Jeremy Swayman to Providence of the AHL. Swayman has appeared in 16 games for the Bruins this season, going 8-6-2.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.