Bruins

A decision on Tuukka Rask is looming for the Bruins

Rask might be ready ahead of schedule. So what will the Bruins do?

Tuukka Rask. John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe

The Boston Bruins knew a decision on Tuukka Rask’s future would eventually come.

Rask and the Bruins still have time to negotiate a new short-term deal. Yet, Rask’s rehab from off-season hip surgery is apparently ahead of schedule.

Bruce Cassidy echoed that sentiment as Rask resumed his on-ice routine — sharing time with Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark — ahead of Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. The Bruins’ medical staff originally slated Rask’s potential return in the February-March timeframe.

But given Sean McDonough’s comments during Friday’s Bruins-Rangers telecast on ABC, Rask’s return may even come a month earlier.

As Rask progresses, the Bruins may encounter their latest Rask conundrum sooner than anticipated. Regardless, they haven’t witnessed any setback in Rask’s recovery to date.

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“He’s completely on schedule,” said Cassidy. “The schedule — again, we’ll defer to the medical people — was supposed to be somewhere after the New Year. Could be into February. February’s the Olympic break, so then it bleeds into March. There was a little bit of leeway there when I was told, originally, when the surgery happened. So I think he’s right there, if not probably a little ahead. I know he’s not behind.”

Unlike Rask’s improving prognosis, the Bruins find themselves behind the Panthers, Maple Leafs and Lightning in the Atlantic standings nearly two months into the Swyman-Ullmark tandem. While Ullmark and Swayman provided solid goaltending in spurts, the duo has struggled at times providing consistency during Boston’s quirky first-quarter slate.

The goaltending and defensive struggles led to Boston’s passionate fanbase calling for Rask’s return. Even noted Rask critics like 98.5’s Tony Massarotti admit they want to see the 34-year-old return.

Rask wants to return to Boston for another attempt at the Stanley Cup. The pricing shouldn’t come at a premium for the cap-strapped Bruins. After all, the Finn jokingly admitted he’d play for $250,000 and an endless supply of Bud Lights.

The more significant question facing the Bruins isn’t so much fitting Rask under their nearly $3 million of current cap space. Instead the bigger picture circles around who Don Sweeney keeps as his second netminder.

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The statistical differences aren’t significantly far apart between Swayman (6-4-0, 2.42 GAA, .908 SV%) and Ullmark (5-3-0, 2.76 GAA, .914%). Neither netminder really had a chance to build on his performances after alternating starts in Boston’s first 18 games of 2021-22. Ullmark and Swayman have a significant opportunity to land consecutive starts as the Bruins embark on a busier slate leading up to the Olympic break.

Ideally, from a financial standpoint, the Bruins would keep their $5 million investment in Ullmark and send a waivers-exempt Swayman to Providence upon Rask’s potential return. The former Sabre battled through a rough 40-minute stretch in Sunday’s start, making a handful of timely stops in the third in Boston’s 3-2 win over Vancouver. He’ll get the nod again on Tuesday against the Red Wings.

Cassidy addressed the Rask situation with Ullmark and Swayman at training camp. They’re inching closer to learning Rask’s fate — and ultimately their own — heading into the holidays.

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