Tim Thomas has slumped with the rest of the Bruins over the last few months, which raises concerns among those who feel the B's need the Thomas of 2010-11 -- the impregnable last line of defense -- to defend their Stanley Cup championship.
Making it worse is the injury to Tuukka Rask and the ineptitude of newly acquired Marty Turco, which is forcing coach Claude Julien to lean on Thomas as Boston attempts to hold off Ottawa for first place in the Northeast Division (and second or third place in Eastern Conference) down the stretch.
But Bob Beers, the ex-B's defenseman who now serves as analyst on the Bruins' radio broadcasts, doesn't think Julien has a choice.
"It's really important for them to finish second in the conference," Beers told Lou Merloni on 'Sports Sunday'. "That gives them home-ice advantage for the first round. That's imperative for them right now. And Thomas gives you the best chance to do that."
Beers says it's obvious Thomas is playing tired - "Look at his age; look at how many games he's played . . . He played the 25 games in the playoffs last year. He went deep. June 15 was the last game." -- and there could be little things Julien can do to to keep him rested.
"They don't have that many back-to-back games, so you get a day in between, you give him some rest in between, you give him a rest maybe on game days where you don't skate him in the morning," said Beers. "Whatever the case is, try to get him his rest."
Just don't expect to see much of Turco unless the Bruins can put some space between themselves and the Senators.
"If you can open up a little lead over Ottawa -- you've got the games in hand, you get a few point lead -- then maybe you'll see a little bit of a change," sand Beers. "But I don't see them deviating from Thomas being the guy right now."
That being the case, Thomas' strong performance against the Flyers in Saturday's overtime win was a hopeful sign. But Beers warns not to take too much out of it.
"That game against Philadelphia was encouraging, but I'm not convinced yet that he's out of his slump," said Beers. "It's only one game."