The Bruins have been hit hard by injuries of late, including a serious blow to the most important position on the ice. They've lost goalie Tuukka Rask for 4-6 weeks with an abdominal and groin strain. With their top netminder in Providence also hurt with Anton Khudobin sidelined with a wrist injury, Tim Thomas is left as the only reliable option in goal with an arduous stretch of 17 games in 31 days remaining in the regular season.
Fortunately, the Bruins were able to find another veteran option in free agency when they signed Marty Turco on Monday. Unfortunately, Turco was playing in Austria and has to clear waivers before he's eligible to join the Bruins, thus putting the Bruins at the mercy of the rest of the league.
"That would be the plan, to have him be able to play and spell Tim," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli told reporters before Tuesday's 5-4 win over the Maple Leafs in Toronto. "Playing in Europe, and the fact that he's actually played [this year] is good. The fact that a goalie like that is available after the trade deadline is fortunate to a certain degree, but there are some other teams that need some goaltending help also. I'd say it's 50-50 that he'll clear waivers."
Turco could be attractive to several clubs with goaltending issues that are battling to secure playoff spots. Tampa Bay has suffered from inconsistent netminding all season, and Mathieu Garon left Tuesday's 7-3 loss to Ottawa with a lower-body injury of his own, making them a potential threat to claim Turco.
The Senators could factor into the mix as well. Their starter, Craig Anderson, is out after cutting his hand in a kitchen accident last month. Ottawa acquired Ben Bishop from St. Louis at the trade deadline, but could still claim Turco as insurance. They could also do it just to keep Turco from Boston, a strategic move with the Senators trailing Boston by just three points in the Northeast Division race.
For that matter, any of the teams in the East could put in a claim before Wednesday's noon deadline whether they need goaltending or not just to tweak the reigning champs and increase the difficulties Boston will face down the stretch. Perhaps even Toronto, which hasn't exactly had stellar goaltending anyway this season, could nab Turco to finally beat the Bruins at something after falling to 0-5-0 against Boston this season with Tuesday's loss.
"The risk is we don't get him," Chiarelli said. "We are where we are if we don't get him."
Where the Bruins would be without Turco is depending on Thomas far too much while trying to lock up the division title and home ice for as long as possible in the playoffs.
"It's important, and we've seen before that history shows it's important to spell him," Chiarelli said of Thomas. "But he's also in his early years played a ton of games in a row. In an ideal situation you want to rest him for the playoffs, and that's what we're trying to do."
Thomas has already been shaky of late, managing just a 7-6-0 record with a 2.71 GAA and .903 save percentage since the start of February. He turns 38 in April and there's plenty of wear on those tires, pumped or not, after playing every minute of last year's Cup run. He'll be counted upon to carry the load in this postseason as well, but the Bruins want him as rested as possible before they enter that grind.
If Turco is claimed, Chiarelli stated that there are no other veteran free agents worthy of pursuing. The fallback plan would be to wait for Khudobin to get healthy, with youngster Michael Hutchinson continuing to dress as Thomas' backup but unlikely to see action outside of emergency circumstances.
"It's just kind of an imperfect storm," Chiarelli said. "But every team has their injuries and deals with them. Khudobin is the guy that we worked hard to put in place for a No. 3 and he's hurt now. It is what it is.
"I would say at the earliest two weeks," Chiarelli added of Khudobin's prognosis. "So if we don't get Marty, if he doesn't clear, we're going to have Khudobin at some point."
They'd really much rather have another option right now. But that will only happen if the rest of the league allows it, which will make for one very long night for the Bruins before they learn Turco's fate on Wednesday.