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McRae out 6 to 8 weeks

The Tampa Bay Lightning bench went silent Sunday night when left wing Basil McRae crumpled to the ice at Chicago Stadium.

"I've never heard the bench that quiet," coach Terry Crisp said. "It was scary."

The Blackhawks' Stu Grimson, who was fighting McRae, stopped.

"I saw he was in a lot of pain and backed off," Grimson said.

But what appeared to be a serious leg injury turned out to be a simple break of the left tibia (bone).

"We were relieved to hear that," Crisp said. "That's a void we can't fill. You don't find a Basil McRae in the minors. What Basil McRae gives us, you definitely can't call up."

Dr. David Leffers looked at the X-rays of the injury Monday night and told McRae that he was lucky because it was a spiral break (where the bone was broken but not displaced).

Part of the reason it didn't move is McRae has an 18-inch rod in that bone that goes to his knee and is screwed in because of an injury sustained April 18.

McRae said it will take the bone about six to eight weeks to heal. But he can begin stationary cycling (while wearing a removable cast) as early as this weekend. He may also be able to do some light skating before the bone is healed.

"I definitely should be able to play before Christmas," McRae said Monday night from his Tampa home, where he and his wife, Jill, and his next door neighbor, Dawn Ramage (wife of Lightning defenseman Rob), were having a Canadian Thanksgiving meal.

McRae said he must have gotten the blade of his skate stuck in the ice when he and Grimson were holding and twisting each other.

"I put all my weight on it and I heard it snap," he said. "But it was only 10 percent as painful as the last time I broke my leg."

McRae's problems started last March when he and Minnesota North Stars teammate Shane Churla went crashing into the boards to check an opponent. Somehow a skate went into McRae, cutting four tendons in his foot.

He had surgery to attach the tendons and was out six weeks. Then he tried to come back for the playoffs maybe a little earlier than he should have.

"It was my own fault," McRae said. "The trainer told me to take it easy, but I didn't listen. In practice, I was skating on the ice and I went over on my ankle and slid into the boards. I broke my tibia and my (fibula)."

That is one of the reasons the North Stars left McRae unprotected for this June's expansion draft.

"We thought we could sneak him through because of his age (31) and his leg injury," said Pat Forciea, North Stars vice president of communications and operations.

"When I came off the ice on the stretcher, I saw Phil (Lightning general manager Esposito) by the Zamboni," McRae said. "I told him I was sorry, because I felt like he took a chance on me and I let him down."

When the Lightning selected him in June, McRae said he was a mess physically. But he worked hard over the summer and was ready for training camp, even though he wasn't 100 percent.

"But I felt like the last week or so I was really getting stronger and I was confident with my leg," he said. "I figured this was all behind me.

"So when it happened, I was in shock. I thought I would wake up and it would all be a bad dream."

McRae, a 12-year NHL veteran, makes contributions that often don't show up in the score book.

"He works like a Trojan," said Lightning defenseman Rob Ramage. "He's a big, big part of this team and everyone will have to do a little more to make up for his absence."