Manny Fernandez, now two months past surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left knee, might not be finished for the season after all.
"How soon I'll be back, I can't say," said Fernandez, reached last night by phone amid reports around the TD Banknorth Garden that he has made great strides in recent days with his rehabilitation.
"I guess I'm kind of a test dummy, you could say. We're working hard at this, with two-a-day workouts, and I'm getting excited . . . my adrenaline is beginning to flow."
Fernandez, acquired from Minnesota last summer with the intent that he would be the Bruins' No. 1 stopper this season, was able to play in only four games before finally submitting to MCL surgery.
When the surgical team finally opened up the joint, said Fernandez, they discovered the ligament was torn off the bone, and the ligament itself had to be repaired before it was reattached to the bone.
"All I know is, when I came out of surgery, they told me, 'You weren't crazy, there was something really wrong with your knee,' " said Fernandez. "And the amount of use the knee takes, day in and day out for a butterfly [style] goalie, it has to be 100 percent. If it's not, it's impossible to play the position."
Guided in his recovery by Scott Waugh, the Bruins' longtime physical therapist, the 33-year-old Fernandez has been working out in a number of places, including the pool and fitness center at his downtown condo, the Garden, and Waugh's office at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Last week, with the knee responding the best it has since surgery, said Fernandez, he was really able to "hammer away" at workouts Friday and Saturday, prior to taking a day off.
Swelling and pain in the knee now at a minimum, said Fernandez, the greatest work left is in building surrounding muscle mass.
"We haven't measured the size, or done any of the strength tests yet," said Fernandez. "So I can't tell you the size, or how strong it is, but I can see my left knee isn't as big as my right. It has been that way for months. All that muscle has to be built back up. But the knee is feeling so good, and responding so well, I know that it will get there . . . it's just a matter of time."
Question is, how long? The Bruins, holding the fort admirably with the fine work of Tim Thomas and backup Alex Auld in net, aren't in dire need. But in a business where there is always a high risk of injury, a healed and ready-to-play Fernandez could serve at least to help the psyche of a club that has struggled to play at a .500 pace over the last eight weeks (11-12-2 since Dec. 13).
"I can smell that I can actually do my job again," said Fernandez. "The way it feels, I know I won't have to worry about getting injured when I start back again. I'd love to get on the ice now, but I still have to get it stronger to do that, and doing the butterfly will be the last test of all. That's the end of the road.
"Once I do the butterfly, they'll just cut me loose out there - and I can't wait for that day to come."
Following his Dec. 23 benching in Pittsburgh, Phil Kessel had a miniburst on offense, collecting a goal in games of Dec. 28 and Dec. 31. However, the sophomore wing/center was held without a goal for a fourth straight game Saturday, and he has gone a meager 3-5 -8 in his last 16 games. He has not scored a goal in back-to-back games all season. He is not considered likely bait with the trade deadline less than two weeks away (Feb. 26), but he also isn't making a lot happen during the 15-17 minutes per night that coach Claude Julien rolls him out there . . . Despite losing their last three home games, by a collective score of 13-6, the Bruins have done a much better job of late at getting shots on net. They peppered Florida's Tomas Vokoun with 41 shots Saturday, equaling a season high, and they've averaged just under 37 in their last three games.
Julien will have his charges back on the ice in Wilmington this morning, prepping for tomorrow night's visit to Causeway Street by Sergei Samsonov and the Hurricanes. "If you want to be a team that's going to be in the top eight," Julien said following the 6-3 loss Saturday night, "you are going to have to have those kind of games [such as Friday night's win in Buffalo] on a consistent basis, night after night. Not once every two or three nights. Right now we need to build some consistency in our wins." Said another way, .500 hockey the rest of the way will not get the Bruins into the playoffs. They have 61 points with 27 games to play, and .500 would leave them with 88 points . . . Andrew Alberts was in the Bruins' dressing room after the game Saturday night, and general manager Peter Chiarelli believes the former Boston College defenseman soon could be back practicing with the club. Alberts has missed the last 23 games recovering from the residual effects of having his head slammed against the boards Nov. 26 in Philadelphia. He played in the next 10 games, but he was forced to shut it down when plagued by concussion-like symptoms.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.