By the next time they play before the home masses at TD Garden this Tuesday versus Tampa Bay, the Boston Bruins may finally display the depth they and their fans have long pined for in all three positions.
On one coast of the continent Friday night, goaltending prospect Anton Khudobin officially ended a nearly month-long stint on injured reserve, resuming his task of salvaging any last morsel of playoff hopes for Providence.
Meanwhile, within the vicinity of another ocean, another tantalizing report came out to push the notion of Rich Peverley suiting up for the first time since an injurious Feb. 15 collision with Montreal’s (now Nashville's) Hal Gill.
No hard date for the versatile veteran winger’s return has been offered, but speculation ranges from anywhere beginning with Saturday’s visit to the Los Angeles Kings. Once Peverley is cleared, the Bruins will have a full allotment of NHL-caliber forwards, plus a spare part to keep on standby in the press box.
Meanwhile, in his first lick of game action since Feb. 25, Khudobin turned away 29 out of 31 shots as part of a 5-2 home win over the Manchester Monarchs. Odds are he will scrape the blue paint for the P-Bruins again Saturday at Connecticut or Sunday versus Portland, if not both, and then could join the parent club when they return from their California road trip Monday.
Even with his injury-induced absence, Khudobin is fourth among AHL goaltenders with 1,298 shots against this season and fifth in the NHL’s top development circuit with 1,194 cumulative saves on the year. That alone makes him the most enticing candidate to give Tim Thomas a few necessary breathers while Tuukka Rask continues to nurse his own ailment, suffered in a March 3 bout with the New York Islanders.
With the near-comical predicament of an overworked Thomas, an injured backup, an injured AHL starter and a barely AHL-caliber stopper in Michael Hutchinson, the Bruins have resorted to an emergency rental in Marty Turco.
Two nights after a semi-promising debut in the form of a relief outing against Pittsburgh on March 11, Turco took the brunt of a chaotic 6-1 loss in Tampa. Starting the game, then giving way to Thomas at 4:31 of the first period, then returning at 3:06 of the second, he let four out of 12 shots get by in a cumulative 41:25 of crease time.
Since then, Thomas has played every minute and even hinted at a second wind over his last three starts. Turco, on the other hand, has sat while his stat line of two appearances, 81 minutes, a 4.44 goals-against average and .824 save percentage glower at him.
For what it’s worth, prior to signing with the Bruins on March 5, Turco’s 2011-12 workload consisted of four games played with EC Red Bull Salzberg in Austria. He saw 250 minutes of action and logged a 2.88 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.
In Providence, where the system is designedly akin to Claude Julien’s up in Boston and where nearly every aspect of the game simulates that of the NHL, Khudobin has seen roughly 10 times as much action.
He has played 41 games and 2,418 minutes while trying to bail out a young defense whose only legitimate seasoning comes courtesy of Andrew Bodnarchuk and Nathan McIver. The rest of the Providence defenders are either professional rookies or sophomores.
After five-plus months of tackling a task that demanding, Khudobin ought to be poised to stand in for Thomas and bank on the assistance of an outstandingly seasoned Boston blue-line brigade. On any given game night, the big Bruins have four blueliners over the age of 30 and all eight rostered defensemen have seen action in at least 150 NHL games.
In addition, Boston is stocked with reliable two-way forwards, Peverley included. All they need is a capable last line of defense.
And on those occasions in the next two weeks when Thomas will need to recharge for the playoffs, the choice for that role will be between the rusty Turco and the rising Khudobin.