Tuukka Rask practices with Bruins as emergency backup

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Tuukka Rask took another key step in his return from offseason hip surgery on Monday, as he practiced with the Bruins’ main group for the first time this season.

Linus Ullmark was not on the ice, so it was Rask at one end of Warrior Ice Arena and Jeremy Swayman at the other. Rask went through regular drills, facing shooters with seemingly few limitations. His movements looked a bit deliberate at times, which is understandable since there’s no need for him to push anything too far at this point. But he didn’t need to take any extra breaks or anything.

Rask has been on the Warrior ice plenty in recent weeks, going through some drills and facing shooters before practices, but Monday marked the first time he was with the full team, or at least close to the full team. Some notable veterans were not on the ice, including Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie Coyle.

Interim coach Joe Sacco said Ullmark, Grzelcyk, Coyle and Tomas Nosek are all dealing with a non-COVID illness that is running through the team. McAvoy missed Saturday’s game due to illness, but skated on his own before practice Monday. Bergeron had a maintenance day to get his nose fixed after breaking it during Thursday’s game in Nashville.

Ullmark’s absence opened the door for Rask to practice as an emergency backup goalie (EBUG), which would explain why he could be on the ice with the team despite not yet signing a contract.

“Good to see him,” Sacco said of Rask after practice. “Brought a little excitement for the boys, so yes, good to see him. … Just by watching him, he looked good. I can’t tell as far as how close he is or not. But he certainly looked good out there. I think he had some fun and I know the guys were excited to see him.”

At one point during practice, Rask robbed a Derek Forbort one-timer with his glove and was met with some loud stick taps and a vocal “Tuuuukkkkkaaaaa.”

Rask technically remains a free agent, but Monday was yet another sign that everything seems to be moving in the direction of an eventual return to the Bruins. Rask has made it clear he wants to play this season, and wants to do so with the Bruins. General manager Don Sweeney said last week that as long as Rask is healthy and wants to play, “he’s likely to be a part of our group.”

Rask recently told ESPN’s Sean McDonough that he thought he could be ready for game action by early January.