BRANDON — For Olie Kolzig, the past few days brought "a sense of relief."
The Lightning backup goaltender found out his season is over because of a torn distal biceps tendon in his left arm. He faces surgery, three to four months of rehab, and his 17-season career might be over, too.
Still, the news, in a "sick way," Kolzig said, legitimized missing 14 games the past six weeks while rehabbing what was believed to be a strain.
"Over my career, I've been known as a pretty quick healer," Kolzig said Wednesday at the Ice Sports Forum. "It was tough coming into the rink explaining to the guys I wasn't ready to go, so there's a sense of relief to know there was a significant reason why I couldn't come back and play."
Orthopedist Ben Shaffer, the Capitals' team physician who treated Kolzig several times during the goalie's 16 seasons with Washington, will perform the surgery that entails reattaching the tendon to the top of the radius bone.
Rehab is expected to begin after six weeks, and Lightning trainer Tommy Mulligan said, "Long term, I wouldn't suspect he would have any issues."
Kolzig, 38, who led the Capitals to the 1998 Stanley Cup final and was the 2000 Vezina Trophy winner, said career decisions will come this summer after family discussions. Even so, he added, "For me, in my mind, there's a lot of doubt for my future right now as far as hockey goes."
As for Tampa Bay, which faces the Hurricanes tonight at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C., the injury removes a locker room voice and a mentor for No. 1 goalie Mike Smith.
It also would seem to leave Karri Ramo, 22, as backup. But the Finn, called up Monday, is expected to be sent back to AHL Norfolk to serve a six-game league suspension for leaving the bench to join a fight at the end of Friday's game with Lake Erie.
The suspension will be over Feb. 8, but Lightning general manager Brian Lawton said he has not decided whether to go with Ramo the rest of the season. In the interim, Riku Helenius, 20, who never has played an NHL game, likely will be promoted from Norfolk.
In other words, get used to seeing Smith in goal.
"I came to camp knowing I might play a lot of games," said Smith, who already has played in 39 of 48. "There's injuries through the year. You have to deal with things that happen."
What happened to Kolzig?
The goalie said it goes back to a mid December practice when he stopped a Steven Stamkos slap shot with his glove hand, and his forearm "felt weak."
"The next guy came in and took a slap shot and it caught me right in the pocket of my glove and torqued my arm back," he said. "Ever since then, I've been having problems."
An MRI exam indicated a strain, not a tear, Mulligan said. Rehab was prescribed.
Kolzig, who is 2-4-1 in eight games with a 3.66 goals-against average, has not played since beating the Canadiens on Dec. 11. He said setbacks occurred before a Jan. 4 game at Atlanta, when he flipped a puck to a fan in the stands; and before a Jan. 19 game with Dallas when he tried to save Marty St. Louis' slap shot during a pregame skate.
Another MRI exam Thursday confirmed a tear of more than 50 percent, Mulligan said: "It just never healed. He had a few instances in the last month when he reached to make a save and it just kept tearing a little more."
"It's not an injury that should happen like that," Kolzig said he was told by Shaffer. "But that area, after years of wear and tear, was probably stressed and weakened."
"It isn't totally torn, but it's at the point where the next one will be Marty Brodeur," Kolzig added, referencing the Devils goalie, who on Nov. 1 completely snapped his biceps tendon. "It's a frustrating thing."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.