KANATA, Ontario It appears that a Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophy winner can still have his cage rattled.
Tim Thomas wasnt too thrilled with getting pulled from a tied game against the Columbus Blue Jackets heading into the third period last weekend, and he was determined to answer strongly in his next shot between the Bruins pipes.
I let in three goals. It was awful, said Thomas while dripping with a healthy dose ofsarcasm. In the back of your head youre like I dont want to let in three goals and be gone after two periods. I want to finish the game.
Its an uncomfortable feeling because youre not used to being in that situation.
The chance Thomas had been waiting for arrived Wednesday night in a Scotiabank Place setting where Thomas has dominated throughout his career, and he did that once again while stopping 47 shots en route to a 5-2 victory for the Bruins over the Senators.
The victory pushed Thomas and the Bs to the top of the Eastern Conference standings for the first time this season, and speaks to the reigning Cup champs simply winning through anything.
Watching Tuukka Rask replace him in the third periodto make 11 saves in the relief victory against Columbus definitely left an impression with the B's netminder, and he'd been waiting for his next chance to shine.Thomas was impenetrable through a game where the Bs were outplayed with Zdeno Chara missing, and held the fort in the first period when the Senators fired 13 shots on him. It started within the first 30 seconds of the game when the Sens attacked Boston off the opening faceoff, and Colin Greening fired on net in the ultimate wakeup call for a snoozing Bs bunch and their waiting goalie.
The shot came from the slot area thats normally Bostons no-fly zone when Chara is logging his 25 minutes of ice time, but it was wide open for business withthe Bruins scrambled to get their bearings. They never really did throughout the 60 minutes despite ending up with two points.
Luckily Thomas kicked out his left pad and knocked the puck away from harms way, and set a tone Ottawa would have to earn any offense coming its way. That ultimately got discouraging for the Senswhen defensemanErik Karlsson couldnt find a way through while firing slap shots from the far points. Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Chris Neil all worked in tight around the cage, butcouldnt shovel anything past Thomas near the left and right posts aside from a meaningless Spezza score in the third period among Thomas' 21 saves. Just the fact that the Sens were able to bully their way to the net and squeeze off 49 shots was something that left Claude Julien displeased following the teams third straight victory. There are too many soft spots without their 6-foot-9 stopper. Unfortunately that will be a way of life until Chara finds his way back into the lineup.
I was joking with the players that Zee is not that good that hes going to cut down the shots against by 28 or 25 shots," said Julien. "Were certainly a much better team than they were Wednesday. Were missing him because he plays big minutes against big players, but right now we just have to look at our game. This has got to do with every single one of our players letting their game slip.
As a team were going through a bit of a challenge right now and I dont think its because of injuries. I dont think were executing and I dont think were battling as much as we should be. Part of it is that our emotions arent as good as they were when we were going well. We need to pick up our game here."
So how does a hockey team pull out a game where it was outplayed, outshot and generally outhustled by its opponent?
A couple of nice individual efforts fromguys like Andrew Ference and Daniel Paille went a long way for the Bs, but nobody was shying away from giving Thomas credit for holding things together early in the game while Boston rediscovered its groove. The high number of shots and genuine scoring chances for Ottawa immediately drew Thomas into the game, and left him answering questions about his career dominance of the Senators organization. Thomas has 11 career wins at Scotiabank Place -- the most in any road arena during his career -- a save percentage approaching .950 and three shutouts at the home of the Senators.To say going to Ottawa puts him in his happy place is no understatement.
Thomas smiled and acknowledged the stats concerning the Senators. But thehumble goalie alsopointed out Wednesday nights effort had more to do with the fact he and his team havebeen pretty damned good this season. The Bs goaltender has improved to 14-5 on the season and is second behind St. Louis goaltender Brian Elliott with a .940 save percentage that allowed him tojump back ahead of fellow B'sgoalie Tuukka Rask in their see-saw statistical battle.
Thomas insisted that its no magical formula when he walks into Scotiabank Place, and there were no mystical hockey powers at work when he turned away 10 shots in the final frenziedtwo minutes of action. The Sens made their last-minute rush, but they werent good enough attempting to get through Thomas.
Im 12-1 in my last 13 games. Its not necessarily Ottawa and its not Canada. I get asked this a lot. The team is finding ways to win right now, said Thomas. Whether were playing the best hockey we want to be playing or not, it might not be the case. But were finding ways to win and were having stretches where were playing good hockey.
I feel pretty good. But, for example, I felt better in the playoffs last year than the way I feel right now. Thats the way it should be, but I cant really compare much to last year at this point.
Thomas should feel good. Just as Tuukka Rask should feel good too. The Bruins are showing just three months into the season that theyve got the most dominant goaltending duo going in the NHL right now, and they're pushing each other.