- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien was standing in the locker room after a brief 35-minute practice Wednesday morning at Ristuccia Arena, discussing the team's goaltending situation, when suddenly, from around the corner, there was a loud creaking sound, like the Tin Man was walking in hockey equipment.
It was Boston's newest goalie, Marty Turco.
With backup Tuukka Rask sidelined four to six weeks after suffering a groin/abdominal strain last Saturday, the Bruins signed the 36-year-old Turco to fill the void for the remainder of the regular season. Since the Bruins signed Turco after the trade deadline, he's not eligible for the playoffs.
There are 17 games remaining in the regular season, and with Rask out, Julien may have to tweak his goaltending schedule the rest of the way. Turco, a 10-year NHL veteran, has played this season in Austria and, before Wednesday, he hadn't been on the ice since March 1.
Julien said he would take a wait-and-see approach with Turco before deciding how much Tim Thomas would play down the stretch. If Turco proves he's ready sooner rather than later, Julien likely will utilize him in order to rest Thomas a bit more than he was last year at this time.
"We just got him on the ice for the first day and if he's ready to go soon, we'll see him soon," Julien said of Turco. "If he needs a little bit of time, we'll have to give him some time. I'd say, at this point, we have to play it by ear."
A season ago, Thomas played 11 of the last 17 games in the regular season, including six of the last eight, posting a 6-4-1 record. Rask was 2-3-1 in his final six games of last season while dealing with a knee injury that required offseason surgery.
Thomas has always been at his best the more he plays. He proved that during his historic run last postseason as he played at the highest level in all 25 of the Bruins' playoff games before hoisting the Stanley Cup on June 15 in Vancouver.
Because of last season's heroics and the short summer break before training camp began in early September, Julien knew he needed to work in more rest for Thomas this season. Even though Rask is out and Turco needs time to get ready, the coach still wants to keep Thomas fresh for the playoffs.
Thomas has played a total of 46 games this season with a 28-15-0 record, a 2.32 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. He played a total of 57 games during the 2010-11 season and posted a 35-11-9 mark with a 2.00 GAA and a .938 save percentage.
"There are other ways to give our goaltenders rest and if Timmy has to miss a practice here or there, or whatever's the case, not going on the ice for a day is the same as not playing a game, so you find ways," Julien said. "We'll balance all of that when the time comes and I'll make the right decision."
Turco's availability comes at a crucial time for the Bruins.
The goaltender's agent reached out to NHL teams, including the Bruins, prior to the Feb. 27 deadline, but there were no takers. However, once Rask was injured last Saturday, it didn't take long for a deal to be made with Turco.
"When the deadline came and went, and I was playing in Austria, I assumed, not only my playoff status was done, I assumed I was over with, period," Turco said. "I was playing for another team in the middle of the playoffs and that's where my heart and my head where at. Unfortunately, we lost over there. On the bright side, it gave me an opportunity for this to happen. It is crazy how things work out, but I'm the kind of guy who looks forward and not behind."
Turco was dressed and ready for practice on Wednesday, but he had to wait for the official word from general manager Peter Chiarelli that he had cleared waivers and was officially a member of the Bruins. With the rest of the team on the ice for the noontime skate, Turco's blades hit the ice at 12:02.
"We wanted him here and I think he wanted to be here," Julien said. "So you hope it was going to work out. When you run into that type of injury that Tuukka went through, and it's after the trade deadline and your No. 1 goaltender in Providence [Anton Khudobin] is injured at this moment, to be able to get a guy like [Turco] is certainly a bonus. We were all happy when noon came around and he was still with us."
Even if another team had claimed Turco, he would have been ineligible to play. When Boston signed Turco, Chiarelli placed him on the team's reserve list. Players who are transferred from one reserve list to another after the trade deadline are ineligible to play for the remainder of the season and the playoffs. All players who are added to a reserve list from outside the league (not property of any other NHL team) after the trade deadline are eligible to play only in the regular season.
After practice on Wednesday, Turco remained on the ice for some much-needed extra work with Bruins goaltending coach Bob Essensa. A few of the players stayed on, too, to help with shooting drills. At the other end of the rink, Chiarelli watched closely.
Even though his last NHL game was nearly a year ago, on March 17, 2011, while playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, Turco believes that his stint in Austria, along with his ability and experience, will help him get back up to NHL-caliber speed quickly.
"I really don't think long at all," he said. "It's more of getting back in the flow and the adjustment won't really take much, in terms of speed and shots. As far as the play, the ice is a little smaller and things happen a little quicker and they are better players with the utmost confidence. There's a big reason why they're in the NHL."
Thomas has had numerous goaltending partners during his career with the Bruins, but his three-season tandem with Rask has been the longest. Now there's another goalie in the mix, at least for the regular season, and Turco said the chance to play alongside Thomas was one of the main reasons he wanted to sign with the Bruins.
The two played against each other at the collegiate, minor league and NHL levels.
"It's pretty exciting," Turco said. "Just think of what he's accomplished and the hurdles he's overcome his whole career. His position, he's at the top of the goalie world in hockey for the work ethic he has and the expectations he has of himself. Those are things, as fellow goalies, you admire most."
Turco's playing time will be limited, but important if he can be successful.
"At the end of the day, my actions will speak volumes," he said. "What I believe as a person and as a player is to act like a winner and hold yourself in high regard and esteem, in terms of expectations, and that seems to coincide with this club, especially with what they've accomplished and what they're trying to accomplish this year."
In the meantime, he'll practice each day like it's Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in order to help his new teammates improve in time for the postseason.
"Act like a winner and things usually take care of themselves," Turco said.
Marty Turco says it won't take him long to be ready to help the Bruins.