Thomas shows Bruins the way back

Thomas shows Bruins the way back
March 18, 2012, 5:23 am
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Tim Thomas needed a change after getting going through one of the worst stretches of his NHL career in March.

In truth the Bruins needed plenty of changes headed into Saturday afternoons tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers, and chief among them was Thomas turning his game around. The 37-year-old was playing in his 12th straight game while attempting to snap his teams four game losing streak, so the chances for an energetic performance between the pipes seemed remote.

The 4.06 goals against average and .846 save percentage in his first nine appearances in the month of March were difficult to comprehend when placed next to Thomas name and normally pristine statistics.

But Thomas performances against the Flyers have always been good throughout his career, and the goalie opted to change out his pads and stick after hitting rock-bottom giving up six goals against the Florida Panthers earlier in the week. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner said there were concrete reasons behind changing out his equipment rather than simple superstition, but whatever the reason it worked in a 3-2 shootout win over the Flyers at TD Garden.

I think the win was very important, we needed that immensely. We needed to show up and have a good game at home. Things havent been going our way. Thats a polite way of saying it lately, said Thomas. To battle out tonight and come up with a good, solid strong game at home and pull out with two points, is hopefully very big for us moving down the road.

Claude Julien was reluctant to single out anyone in a solid team victory for the Bruins, but he did acknowledge that his All-Star goaltender finally appears to be on the right track.

Tim was no different than everybody else. He really did a great job. I thought he was tracking the puck well, he was making the saves he had to, and like I said, both goals were tip-ins, so certainly not his fault, said Julien. To a man, today, we were better. We did a better job in front of him, which allowed him to be better, and like I said, he made the save when he had to, to win us the game against the guy whos pretty good, normally, in the shootout. So, right now, we have to look at the positive and work like that.

Thomas had been arguably the NHLs worst goaltender during the month of March, but he turned it around for one day with 27 saves against the Flyers in an encouraging sign that hes turning the corner. While the Bruins scored a couple of goals early in the game to really seize control of the momentum, the victory was much more about a stouter defensive performance and a revitalized goaltender.

Recently Thomas had struggled to lock things down when it was time to make the key save in the game, but it was back to vintage Conn Smythe Thomas against the Flyers. With the Bruins sitting on a 1-0 lead early in the first period and the hockey club still in a very fragile place, it was Thomas that shrugged away a Jaromir Jagr breakaway chance when the Czech Republic living legend had just jumped out of the penalty box. The stop was a momentum-turning stop and the Bruins followed up with Tyler Seguins 25th goal of the season to give Boston a lead they needed every bit of as the game unfolded.

I am not trusting the bounces right now. Thats natural I think, said Thomas. But the breakaway save on Jagr, it did help to boost my confidence more than it already was.

The only shots to beat Thomas Saturday afternoon were a pair of tipped pucks from Philadelphia attackers pacing the price in front of the net, and neither score could be blamed on the goaltender. But he was again on top of his game at the end of the third period when the Flyers launched 12 shots on net in a furious attempt to land two points in regulation, and Thomas was able to turn away a Claude Giroux bid in the final seconds prior to overtime.

Best of all was Thomas adjustment in the shootout that allowed him to improve to 6-0 this season. He played deeper in his net while being beaten by Claude Giroux and Matt Read during the first two shooters in the extra session, and then changed on the fly for Daniel Briere.

Thomas jumped way out of the crease to challenge Briere, threw off his momentum and secured the two points when he made the only stop of the shootout. Thats the kind of gambling adjustment Thomas can make when the old confidence is flowing through his body, and it appears that its coming back.

My plan going into the shootout was to go out and play the other guys like Jagr on the breakaway. But that didnt work, but it was great to see our guys keep going in, said Thomas. After the second one, I kind of changed up what I do and I came way out to Danny Briere, I think I went all the way out to the hash marks to try and give him a different look and try to make him think what the heck hes doing.

This wasnt the Thomas questioning himself and what was going on around him that had no answers following the teams fourth straight loss to Florida. Instead this was a Thomas that had figured a few things out and now has a plan of attack with different equipment and a composite stick. The Bruins have 11 games remaining on their schedule and Thomas is likely to play nearly all of them with Boston in the middle of a battle to retain their No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference.

The prospect looks a lot brighter for Thomas coming off a winning performance against Flyers thats given everybody on the roster a moment to breathe. Perhaps thats all goaltender and team needed to get things cranking again in the right direction.