PITTSBURGH Tim Thomas broke some of the cardinal rules of a winning streak, but it didnt matter.
Thomas changed back to his normal goalie mask and away from his Movember Mustache mask that hes set up a charity raffle to auction off to the highest bidder and the goalie mask hed been wearing for nearly his entire November winning streak.
But none of the superstitious stuff seems to matter when youre as good as Thomas and the Bruins are right now. Thomas was solid for most of the night and spectacular when he had to be while making 45 saves en route to a 3-1 victory over the Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center.
Early on it was like they were more trying to be opportunistic and trying to make plays, said Thomas. Once we got ahead by a little bit they started throwing everything at the net rather than trying to make the perfect play.
Its been pretty nice to be a part of this team over the last month. There have been times when we fell out of exactly how we wanted to play, but at the same time individual guys have had big nights to bail us out.
Perfect play or puck-throwing didnt seem to matter. Thomas was stopping it either way.
For the Bs and Thomas the victory over the Pens was validation that theyre essentially in a battle with themselves to see how good they can be.
The Bruins made mistakes, of course, against a game Pittsburgh team, but they also overcame a pair of 5-on-3 Pitt power plays and a late surge by the Penguins spurred on by Matt Cookes third period goal. Thomas stopped eight shots when Pittsburgh was on the man advantage, and perhaps none was bigger than a point blank stop on Chris Kunitz without any hint of a rebound.
But Thomas never broke down, and became the first Bs goaltender to win 10 consecutive games since Andy Moog in 1993. Thomas did it all while moving to second in the NHL with a .940 save percentage in 18 games this season. Thomas trails only St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott still saving pucks at a .945 clip, but the Bs goaltender is the only one of the two puck-stoppers thats proven he can play at this level all season.
Our penalty kill guys did great and our goalie made the big save when we needed it, said Claude Julien. At the stage of the game where we killed off the 5-on-3 we could have easily let them back into it. We positioned ourselves well and didnt make it easy for them.
Thomas made key saves early on when things were still tight, and showed plenty of evidence he was in his goaltending zone while stopping a season-high 17 shots in the second period. He tracked a puck off Kunitzs stick that ricocheted off Zdeno Charas skate and seemed destined to be trouble and made a calm pad save.
Thomas gobbled up an Arron Asham one-timer from the slot on a play that developed late, and could have caught Thomas by surprise. He held the post on a bull rush by Joe Vitale late in the third period that spurred Gregory Campbell to drop the gloves protecting his franchise goaltender.
Thomas said the teams consistent excellence has allowed him to relax at points during the 15 games since the Bruins decided to dominate the NHL, and that means hes not taxing his 37-year-old body like he might have in the past.
Its been easier mentally because you have confidence your team is going to find a way to come through. Weve done it for so long that were really proving it, said Thomas. If the team isnt playing well sometime the goalie can make the mistake of putting the pressure on himself or trying to win it all by himself.
But the team playing the way it has over the last five weeks a goalie doesnt think that way. He just needs to be ready to help out if called upon.
That means Thomas should have plenty in the tank when it matters most for the Bruins, and thats an interesting proposition for a hockey team that looks better than the one he led to a Cup title through dominant play between the pipes.