The long-awaited news on Tuukka Rask's injury finally came Monday evening, with the announcement that the young netminder will be out 4-6 weeks with what the club termed a "lower abdomen strain/groin strain."
That leaves Tim Thomas to shoulder the load down the stretch. A year ago, that wouldn't be a reason for much concern. Thomas was en route to a truly historic netminding campaign. He hasn't been nearly as dominant of late, going just 6-6-0 with a 2.61 GAA and .907 save percentage since the start of February.
Thomas will need some help, or at least the occasional chance to rest before the postseason. The Bruins attempted to address that need by signing veteran Marty Turco late on Monday.
Rask's injury likely puts him out for the rest of the regular season, which has just under five weeks remaining. That's bad news for Boston's immediate future with the extra strain it will put on Thomas.
It's not as dire for Rask's long-term future though. While a groin injury is not something that should ever be taken lightly for a goalie, the fact that it was not a knee injury should be a bit of a relief. Rask has already undergone one surgical procedure on his left knee this past offseason, and another injury to that knee would lead to more concerns for his future durability.
This injury still leaves the Bruins in a tough position down the stretch. They had hoped to give Thomas, who turns 38 in April, some extra rest to keep him fresh for the playoffs. Rask would have helped pick up the slack with the busiest part of Boston's schedule just beginning. The Bruins have 18 games over the final 33 days of the season, with more than one day between games just once and three sets of back-to-back games.
With Rask out and Anton Khudobin, the top option down in Providence, also sidelined with a wrist injury, only youngster Michael Hutchinson was available to back up Thomas. Khudobin had been re-signed to a two-year deal in the offseason as an insurance policy for just such an occurrence. He had been impressive in limited stints in the NHL with Minnesota, going 4-1-0 with a 1.40 GAA and .955 save percentage in six games in 2009-10 and 2010-11. But he won't be able to add to those numbers now when the Bruins needed him most.
With the Bruins trying to hold off the hard-charging Senators, who have pulled within three points of the Northeast Division lead, and secure home ice for as long as possible in the playoffs, these games down the stretch will be especially important. Throwing a youngster who just turned 21 on Friday and has played just 66 professional games, none of them in the NHL, into that kind of pressure cooker would be unwise for both Hutchinson's long-term development and the Bruins' immediate needs.
Enter Turco. The Bruins signed him late Monday to give the club an experienced option in net when Thomas needs a break. And Turco is definitely experienced.
The 36-year-old Turco has played 10 seasons in the NHL, appearing in 538 regular-season games with Dallas and Chicago. He's posted a 273-165-43 record with a 2.35 GAA and a .910 save percentage, while also playing in 47 postseason contests.
He won't be eligible to play in the playoffs for Boston as he was signed after the trade deadline, but that isn't a big issue. Thomas played every minute of last year's Cup run and the Bruins will need to ride him again this postseason, with Rask potentially back by then to back him up. The Bruins didn't sign Turco for the playoffs. They signed him to help them get to the playoffs in the best shape possible.
The question is whether Turco can still do that at this stage of his career. Turco was just 11-11-3 with a 3.02 GAA and an .897 save percentage. That ranked him just 39th in the league among qualified leaders in GAA and 40th in save percentage. He went unsigned this summer, eventually playing a handful of games for EC Red Bull Salzburg in the Austrian First Division. He posted a 2.64 GAA and .934 save percentage in four regular-season games, and a 3.16 GAA and .911 save percentage in six playoff contests in Austria, but that's a mighty big step down from NHL competition.
It's also possible that Turco won't make it Boston. He has to clear waivers. While his recent resume isn't likely to attract too much interest, an Eastern Conference rival like Ottawa could put in a claim just to prevent him from playing for the Bruins.
The Islanders claimed Evgeni Nabokov on waivers last season when Detroit signed him out of the KHL. However, that was a much different scenario with Nabokov signed through this season and the Islanders attracted to adding a quality goalie at a small cap hit. Nabokov has gone on to take over as New York's starter, and was actually in net at the opposite end of the ice when Rask was injured on Saturday.
Turco won't factor into anyone's long-range plans. He could be an important stopgap for Boston though. He would give the Bruins an experienced option in goal to allow Thomas at least a little rest down the stretch. And any rest for Thomas in the next five weeks will be vital. With Rask out of the picture for now, it will once again fall on Thomas to determine how far the Bruins will go this year.
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