Tim Thomas will all but inevitably be the Boston Bruins’ masked man of momentum entering the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Barring a rancid regression from his recent signs of improvement and back to his unsavory February form, the elder half of Boston’s goaltending tandem will not give way to the injured Tuukka Rask if and when he returns next month.
Regardless of the situation’s implications for the balance of this season, that ought to instill some assurance to those who are apprehensive about Rask’s long-term health and aptitude. Look no further than two seasons ago, when the roles were reversed and Rask was exclusively leaned upon when the Bruins could not rationally resort to an ailing Thomas.
If anyone is looking at Rask, who has kept his activity to a minimum since sustaining a lower-body ailment March 3, to make much of an impact on 2011-12, then his health ought to be a concern. The last thing he needs at this time is pressure to perform.
Not that there is a heavy history on the 25-year-old’s medical record. Since becoming a permanent NHLer at the start of the 2009-10 season, Rask has had only two sideline stints of note. The first occurred in early March of his rookie campaign, when a lower-body injury kept him out of game action for nine days and three contests.
Almost precisely two years to the date of that injury, Rask crumbled in pain after a knee-jerk attempt at a kick save near the halfway mark of a game against the New York Islanders. And unlike before, the TD Garden masses and NESN television audience had the displeasure of witnessing Rask’s helpless posture and subsequent escort off the ice.
Already, more than twice as much time has since elapsed than the recovery period in 2010. The general consensus has emergency-rental acquisition Marty Turco and, if he heals from his own injury, Anton Khudobin keeping the backup seat warm until Rask suits up again for the postseason.
The Boston faithful can only hope that that is as far as Rask will go between now and the offseason. To reinsert him into high-stakes game action so soon after a protracted recovery period and on top of the recent rust that comes with it would risk afflicting the team’s hopes for another deep playoff run.
Perhaps more importantly, it would potentially hinder the young goalie’s hopes for a full return to normalcy by the start of the next training camp, assuming he is re-signed in advance of free agency.
It does not matter how Thomas renews his traction for the playoffs, as long as he does. He might build it up by simply building upon his recent 29-save shootout victory over Philadelphia and shutout over Toronto.
He might store up a second wind by catching plentiful breathers over the final 10 games of the regular season courtesy of Turco and possibly Khudobin.
Either way, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner will need to be reliable starting April 11.
Rask’s long-term health is hardly a pressing concern right now, but that does not mean the Bruins should neglect to preserve it.
General manager Peter Chiarelli needs to have his head on a swivel between the present and the future. The process of ultimately transferring the crease from Thomas to Rask should be on hold for now. But Boston’s higher-ups must also work on renewing Rask’s contract and, as a byproduct, enhance his eagerness for a fresh, healthy start to next season.