WASHINGTON — For the time being, the Lightning's playoff hopes are in the hands of goaltenders Dwayne Roloson and Dustin Tokarski.
Call them the Odd Couple.
Roloson, 42, is the NHL's oldest player with statistics near the bottom of the league. Tokarski, 22, called up Wednesday from AHL Norfolk, has 44 minutes of NHL experience.
Not exactly the way Tampa Bay drew it up but a necessity with No. 1 goalie Mathieu Garon likely out for the rest of the regular season — three to four weeks, officially — with a torn right groin muscle sustained 3:54 into Tuesday's 7-3 loss to the Senators.
General manager Steve Yzerman said he will look in Europe for a free agent, but the pickings probably are slim.
"(Roloson) and Dustin will get an opportunity to play in the next few weeks," Yzerman said. "Which one gives us the better chance to win will play."
The first chance will be against the Capitals tonight at the Verizon Center.
Games don't get much bigger. Tampa Bay is 11th in the Eastern Conference, two points behind Washington — tied for ninth with Buffalo — and four out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
Does coach Guy Boucher go with Roloson, whose 3.82 goals-against average is 81st of 83 listed goalies and .878 save percentage 78th?
Or does he give a shot to Tokarski, who hasn't played an NHL game since 2009-10, when he mopped up twice, but is on an 8-0-0 run with Norfolk with a 1.75 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and two shutouts?
"It is a possibility," Boucher said. "It's probably the best time to bring him up."
Over time, though, "both goaltenders will see the net," said Boucher, who summed up Garon's injury with this:
"It just leaves an open space for someone to go out and make a difference."
After Garon was hurt doing a split to stop Erik Karlsson's shot, speculation was the Lightning would claim Marty Turco off waivers.
Turco, 36, was signed by the Bruins after the injury to Tuukka Rask. Because Turco was playing in Europe, he first had to clear waivers, and Yzerman had intentions of making a claim.
But a conversation with the NHL turned up bylaw 12.4, which says players such as Turco, signed after the trade deadline, cannot play if claimed off waivers.
The rule apparently was adopted to stop teams from stockpiling players. Yzerman said he had been under the impression claimed players were ineligible only for the playoffs.
No one, it seems, feels worse than Garon, who said he felt a pop in his groin and his right leg go numb when he stopped Karlsson's shot.
"It's terrible," he said. "You get hurt. It's never good timing, but this one is probably the worst timing. I felt like I let the team down. But I know they will keep battling and play hard."
Garon was 12-3-2 during Tampa Bay's current 14-6-2 run that got it back in the playoff chase.
On the other hand, Roloson hasn't allowed fewer than three goals in a start since Nov. 17. And in relief Tuesday, he allowed five goals on 30 shots.
"Every player, the goal is to get more responsibility," Roloson said. "You've just got to focus on what you've got to do to help the team win. You can't worry about anything else."
"He's a battler and one of those guys with a short-term memory," right wing Teddy Purcell said. "We have faith in him."
"It's a different game in the AHL," Purcell said. "But if he gets an opportunity, we'll be just as confident in him. We're excited to see what he can do."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.