Where other teams may have seen a potential problem with two netminders capable of being the No. 1 guy on most clubs, the Bruins saw it as enviable depth that would give them a chance to keep both fresh down the stretch when the schedule really picks up in both volume and intensity heading into the playoffs.
That plan hit a snag on Saturday when Tuukka Rask went down with an apparent leg injury. The Bruins don't know how long he'll remain sidelined, only that he won't accompany the team on its road trip to face the conference-leading Rangers in New York on Sunday and the Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday.
The injury comes at a particularly bad time for the Bruins, and not just for the immediate challenge of facing the Rangers, who have beaten the Bruins twice already this season — both times in Boston. The bigger picture paints an even more troubling scene, as the Bruins need both their netminders more than ever with 19 games over the remaining 35 days of the regular season.
"It is what it is," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "You're hoping to be able to utilize your two goaltenders in this stretch because the next two weeks is about four games per week. But it's not [possible], so we'll have to make do some way."
It further hurts because Rask was showing signs of pulling out of the midseason slump he had been mired in. After allowing three or more goals in five straight appearances and failing to earn a win in that span, he was strong in his last start with 26 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss in Buffalo on Feb. 24. He appeared well on his way to another solid effort on Saturday, allowing just one goal on 12 shots before suffering the injury midway through the second period.
"Tuukka's a real good goaltender," Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "I think we have two No. 1 goalies, and [it's big] to lose him. For Timmy [Thomas] it's going to be tough because he's going to be playing more. So that's going to be an extra load for Timmy, but I'm sure he's going to be ready for it. He loves challenges, and I'm sure he's going to want to come out on top on this one too."
An extra load for Thomas isn't what the Bruins wanted. They were hoping to keep the 37-year-old netminder rested for what they hope will be another long postseason run, but now they will have to lean heavily on the veteran while Rask is sidelined.
"Tuukks gets in there and is playing really well, but it's part of the game," Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "Injuries are going to occur, and lucky for us we have two of the best goalies in the league. Tuukka goes down and you put Timmy in, and Timmy's obviously more than capable of doing the job."
But Thomas will be asked to take on quite a workload now with the Bruins' jam-packed schedule and the lack of a proven option behind Thomas. Anton Khudobin was re-signed in the offseason as an insurance policy if either Thomas or Rask was injured, but Khudobin is sidelined himself right now with a wrist injury. That left Michael Hutchinson to be recalled from Providence, where he's just 6-11-0 with a 2.62 goals-against average this season.
As the Bruins look to hold off Ottawa, which is just three points back in the Northeast Division, they will have to use Thomas much more than the planned.
This also comes at a time when the margin for error is smaller than ever for the Bruins netminders. Boston's offense has struggled mightily with forwards Nathan Horton (concussion) and Rich Peverley (knee) sidelined, and the Bruins were shut out five times in 13 games in February.
They've found a productive new top line with Tyler Seguin moved up alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic, with that unit combining for six goals in two games together. But those are also the only six goals Boston has scored in those two games, and the balanced attack that was so crucial to their success in the past is suddenly severely lacking.
"We have the scoring," Julien said. "Right now it isn't there. I think part of it is [we're] a little bit snake-bitten…I think you'd like to see a little bit more secondary scoring, but you know, when you're missing guys like Peverley, and you're missing guys like Horton, those are guys that, every game, have scoring chances, so you just lost two of those, which really takes a lot away from your hockey club. So you need to rely on guys to do a little bit more, and that's what we're pushing our team to do here, is to try and spread out that scoring and not have to put the pressure on the same guys night in, night out."
Injuries have left the Bruins struggling to score goals in recent weeks. Now another injury could leave them shorthanded in trying to prevent goals. It's not the scenario the club envisioned as they headed down the home stretch of the season in preparation for their Cup defense in the playoffs, but they've proven resilient before and will need to dig deep to overcome this adversity as well.
"It's difficult when key guys are out of the lineup," Lucic said. "We've had key guys out of the lineup in the past few seasons and it's given an opportunity for other guys to step up. Not pointing fingers at anyone, I think it's a group effort. Everyone has to step up a little bit more and do a little bit more and try to fill that void."
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