NEW YORK Tim Thomas never backs down from a challenge, but the 37-year-old goaltender also always knows when hes facing one.
So Thomas certainly knew he was 2-6-1 over the course of his career at Madison Square Garden heading into Sunday nights meaningful game against the New York Rangers, and that Henrik Lundqvist has had the better of him in their head-to-head matchups.
So it all became fuel to Thomas fire heading into a game with the Northeast Division and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference on the table, and Thomas finished with a 33-save gem in a 2-1 victory over the Rags at Madison Square Garden.
It looked shaky early when the Rangers turned a Zdeno Chara slap shot off Jordan Carons leg into a Marian Gaborik partial breakaway goal that Thomas couldnt stop when the shot came in low. But that was it for a determined Thomas, who put up the wall following that first goal allowed.
This is a tough building to play in. Its dark. There are funny bounces all over the place. Plus theyre a good team and they play solid hockey, said Thomas. I felt pretty good, so from my own perspective I just wanted to stay focused and keep playing the way I was. So I just wanted to keep it going, and as things went on in the third I just wanted to make sure took it in regulation. I didnt want to play in overtime.
Im starting to see the puck in traffic and find it, and I think thats important. Im getting to where I need to be.
Instead Dennis Seidenberg fired a one-timer past Lundqvist after a quick Patrice Bergeron screen in front of the net, and Bergeron managed to squirt a puck through the Swedes pads on a hard-working power play in the second period.
That was all Thomas would need while making 15 saves in the third period, and standing up everything the Rangers could throw at them. It was clear New York finally started getting discouraged at the end of the third period when Ryan Callahan floated a floating, weak shot at Thomas with the Bs goaltender far out of the net without his stick.
It was a panic move in a 2-1 game with Bostons goaltender down and out of the play, but thats what Thomas can do to demoralize an opponent when hes at his puck-stopping best.
He was clearly at that against the Rags on Sunday, and Claude Julien pointed to a big right pad save on a hard-charging Marc Staal as one that everybody celebrated from the bench with a giant exhale.
The biggest thing for me was to come in and play a good, solid game and I thought we did, said Claude Julien. He saved his best for the end. Theres no doubt about that. We were looking at it from the bench and thought one of those pucks was going in, but he kicked it out. I thought was the save of the night. For two periods we did a good job in front of him, but they were a desperate team in the third trying to do anything they could to tie it up.
It was important for Thomas psyche to get a win at Madison Square Garden and beat Lundqvist this season after a few failed attempts, and now they have with both teams looking forward to a potential showdown in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Thomas will have to stop a lot of pucks between now and then, but hes looked up for it while going 5-1-1 in his tending turnaround over the last two weeks.