Bruins notes: Thomas to face old friends

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Bruins notes: Thomas to face old friends

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Plenty of connections between Tim Thomas, Dwayne Roloson and Marty St. Louis as the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning get ready to jump into the Eastern Conference Finals.

St. Louis sat next to Roloson at the TD Garden podium on Friday afternoon and jokingly thanked the former University of Lowell goaltender for discouraging Thomas from playing college hockey at Lowell and instead pushing the Vezina Trophy winner toward the University of Vermont where Thomas and St. Louis put on a show for four years at the Burlington campus.

Marty is one of the greatest competitors Ive ever played with and Ive ever seen play, said Thomas. You know its unfortunate that we have to play against each other. Thats the way it works out, though. I couldnt have more respect for a person as a player and as a human being than I do for Marty.

Both St. Louis and Thomas had to struggle through the minor leagues and get bounced around early in their hockey careers before developing with the Lightning and Bruins respectively and both former college teammates have remained close while getting to hang out at All-Star games and other NHL events.

But the ultra-competitive St. Louis fires up the engine for the Lightning attack, and carefully complimented his friend while also making it very clear that Tampa Bay was coming to Boston for business.

I'm proud of where Timmy has gone with his career obviously, what he did, how he battled to be where he is today. He's earned every ounce of recognition he's getting. Obviously he's on the other side right now, said St. Louis. We're both trying to get to the same place. We've talked about it a lot this week, the University of Vermont connection, whatnot. But the bottom line is we're both here to do our job and to play the best we can to help our team win. I haven't talked to Timmy or anything. We'll probably talk when we shake hands.

Roloson has undergone the same kind of battles to be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL after getting set adrift by the Calgary Flames and Buffalo Sabres organizations early in his pro career, and the 41-year-old espoused the benefits of experience in the arena of goaltending a market that Thomas and the Lightning goalie have cornered with 78 years between the two of them in the closest thing the Stanley Cup playoffs will have to a senior citizen matchup.

I think it's very valuable. You can be thrown into almost any situation and can look back and say, Yeah, I can relate to this, or, Yeah, I've been through this before, said Roloson of the things hes learned through 20 years of pro hockey and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006. I think when you are going through adversity, especially during playoff time, you can look back and say, Yeah, okay, don't worry about it, this is how it's going to happen, play out. You can deal with it and understand what's going to happen, not lose focus on your task at hand, and that's winning hockey games.

Similarly, 37-year-old Thomas bristles at the mention of his age as a potential detractor from his game, and instead believes like a bottle of fine wine from a Flint, Michigan vineyard that he simply gets better with age. Its hard to argue with it when the Bs goaltender set an NHL record with a .938 save percentage this season while leading the Bruins through one of the best seasons in the modern era of goaltending.

Thomas feels comfortable enough in his age to admit that Roloson was a guy he really admired when he was backing up Dominik Hasek with the Sabres, and biding his time to secure that elusive starting NHL starting spot.

Thomas and Roloson also played against each other once in college when the UVM club destroyed Rolosons Lowell team during his senior year and again in Finland during the lockout when once again Thomas team took it to Rolosons lesser European club. Through all of that Thomas kept the same warm feelings for a goalie that blazed a little bit of a trail for him over the years.

In a roundabout way, when I wasn't in the NHL, I was looking at Dwayne Roloson. He made it to the NHL, I don't know how long it took him after he got out of college, but he really had to work his way up before he got those number one jobs, he was a backup to Hasek, said Thomas. He was a backup in a couple places, had to work his way up the ladder. I saw that he was doing it. Seeing other stories like that, we were in the situation I was in, it's something that can give you hope.

There are plenty of storylines, but the inter-connected worlds of Thomas, Roloson and St. Louis could prove to be really interesting once the competitive juices start flowing a little bit in this series.

Boston's David Krejci was watching Game 7 of the Red Wings and Sharks on Thursday night, but he wasnt listening to the broadcast at the time. So he didnt hear Versus Network analyst Pierre McGuire compare the Czech Republic center favorably with Detroit pivot Pavel Datsyuk as he nearly single-handedly helped his Motown hockey to victory despite a bum wrist.

Datsyuk had an amazing postseason and has been an All-Star, Selke and Lady Byng Trophy winner during his career, and Krejci was both flattered and flabbergasted by the comparisons to the 32-year-old Russian superstar. Datsyuk has a couple of 90-point seasons and 651 career points in 662 games, and Krejci knows that the numbers and the magic puck control he has on his stick are some skills that are pretty unique for Datsyuk above and beyond everyone else.

The guys told me it. Obviously its nice, but theres only one Pavel Datsyuk, said Krejci. There is no one like him and there will never ever be anyone like him. There might be bigger guys and faster guys, but the puck skills and the moves he does theres just no one. Hes unbelievable.

I take it as a compliment. Its nice to be hear somebody say oh yeah, hes similar. But its like people back home and what they say about Jaromir Jagr. Theres only one and there will never be another one.

Fifteen of 19 skaters who have hit the ice for the Bruins in this years playoffs have a positive plusminus rating. Zdeno Chara, who led the league in plusminus during the regular season with a mark of plus-33, leads all playoff skaters with a rating of plus-11.

Courtesy of Bruins media relations maestro Eric Tosi, heres a rundown of each and every Bruins player thats won the late-80s Chalkline Bruins jacket passed out to the Bs player of the game since an April 22 game against the New Jersey Devils. The player then wears the jacket in the locker room during the media access period and hangs it in his stall until the teams next win. After the next win, he will select a different teammate to pass it along to. Here is the tally thus far:

322 vs. NJ: Milan Lucic
324 vs. MTL: Zdeno Chara
327 at PHI: Tim Thomas
329 vs. CHI: Mark Recchi
42 vs. ATL: Tuukka Rask
46 vs. NYI: Daniel Paille
49 vs. OTT: Rich Peverley

418 at MTL, Game 3: Patrice Bergeron
421 at MTL, Game 4: Michael Ryder
423 vs. MTL, Game 5: Tim Thomas
427 vs. MTL, Game 7: Nathan Horton

430 at PHI, Game 1: David Krejci
52 at PHI, Game 2: Tim Thomas
54 vs. PHI, Game 3: Dennis Seidenberg
56 vs. PHI, Game 4: Milan Lucic

Pavel Kubina was not on the ice for Tampas Friday afternoon skate at TD Garden and the big Lightning defenseman didnt make the trip with the team to Boston meaning he wont be available for Game 1 or Game 2. For a team thats already pretty shallow in terms of its defensemen depth, that just makes the picture even murkier.

There have been plenty of separated at birth guesses for Tampa Bay Lightning Dwayne Roloson as he definitely looks similar to several famous long-haired people out there, but Im going with Roloson as a Steve Nash look-a-like. The resemblance is uncanny between those two, and even better theyre both Canadian.

Guy Boucher regaled the media with his thoughtful, interesting answers to a host of questions, and continued a reverse-psychology tack when it comes to getting pucks past Bruins goalie Tim Thomas and perhaps motivating his own forwards at the same time by giving them little shot of beating the Vezina Trophy favorite. Here was Bouchers deep thought for Friday when asked about Thomas between the pipes.

"The reality is whatever we have planned for Tim Thomas he's probably going to figure it out, said Boucher. It's in our heads. Make no mistake about that.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Cassidy: Rask 'needed to be better' . . . and Rask agrees

Cassidy: Rask 'needed to be better' . . . and Rask agrees

BOSTON -- It's the wrong time of year for the No. 1 goaltender to struggle. 

But that's what's happening with Tuukka Rask and the Bruins. The former Vezina Trophy winner allowed five goals, including a couple of softies, on 28 shots in Thursday's 6-3 loss to the Lightning, which extended Boston's losing streak to four games. Rask is 3-6-0 in the month of March with a 3.01 goals-against average and .890 save percentage in nine games.

Rask had some good stops early in the game Thursday as the Bruins slogged their way through a slow start, but began to break down at the end of the second period while playing his third game in four days and 59th of the season. Still, interim coach Bruce Cassidy didn't seem inclined to use overwork as an excuse. 

"He needed to be better tonight," Cassidy said of Rask. "We needed to be better in front of him, and he needed to be better on some of those goals, It's March 23, so really, our focus needs to be there. You'd hope it's more fatigue than focus at this point in the year, but I can only speculate."

Tampa Bay's third goal was an odd-man rush with clear breakdowns in front of Rask, but he was also beaten high short side on his glove hand by Anton Stralman while squared to the shooter. Then in the third period Jonathan Drouin uncorked a shot from the face-off circle that beat Rask far-side under his glove hand for the game-winning goal. 

It was a soft goal any way you break it down, and it had Rask accepting responsibility postgame with a voice that softened and trailed off as he copped to his culpability. 

"You have to [pick up your team]," he said. "A lot of the time that's the case, the goalie has to make a couple extra stops there. [On Thursday] I didn't. That's part of my job to accept the fact that sometimes it's your fault. There were a couple of times I should've made the save but it happens sometimes . . .

"We're fighting for that last [playoff] spot, it doesn't matter who you play against. There are no easy games and everybody should know that. But, then again, look how we started the game, I don't think that was the plan. We got the late lead [in the second period], but then they came back every single time. Then they extended the lead there and got the win. It was just embarrassing."

The Bruins only hope is that Rask gets it back together and provides the brick-wall goaltending Boston is going to need to prevail in the next eight games. There's a good chance that Boston will be riding him the rest of the way, given Boston's currently narrow hold on a wild-card spot with just a couple of weeks to go. 

Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

BOSTON -- For the third straight season, the Bruins are showing all the ugly, telltale signs of a hockey club poised to take a nosedive out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The short-attention span Bruins returned in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at TD Garden, and proceeded to blow three one-goal leads in the second period before totally collapsing in the final 20 minutes of the game. Three unanswered third goals later, the Bruins were understandably downtrodden and accountable for a performance that kicked up so many bad memories from the last couple of seasons.

“We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and we can’t point fingers. Everyone has to step up and if every guy is going to do their job, including myself, then the rest will follow, you know?” said David Krejci. “But we hadn’t done that [against Tampa Bay] at all. The last two games against Toronto and Ottawa, I thought we worked hard. But for whatever reason [against Tampa] – maybe we thought it was going to come easy – we just shot ourselves in the foot.

“Like I said, each player has to be better, including myself, and if we don’t look at ourselves in the mirror that’s what’s going to happen. We’ll be losing and we need to win games. We have a team, we all believe, we know we can play well. We know we can win hockey games. We have a great game plan, but [against Tampa] I guess we just thought it was going to come easy.”

Even worse there were clear signs of panic in Boston’s game as things unfolded in an unsightly manner on the Garden ice.

Clearly it wasn’t about talent on Thursday night, and instead it was about focus, concentration and paying attention to the fine details that can come back to haunt you late in the season. The Bruins scored three goals in the second period with David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Riley Nash each lighting the lamp, but it took 44 seconds, 24 seconds and 1 minute, 35 seconds respectively in the second period for the Bolts to things up.

That’s the kind of instant buckling and crumbling under pressure we’ve seen in the past from the Bruins late in seasons, and we’re seeing it again despite a different coach and some new, hard-nosed players like David Backes. That lack of composure combined with a pinch of panic is a potentially disastrous mix for the Black and Gold, just as it has been for the last three years.

“Those follow up shifts need to be our best shifts of the game. They’re when you can either bury a team, or when you get scored on to have a great response, and to show that you’re not going away [if you’re the team trailing]. I don’t think they were our best shifts. They were probably some of our least [effective] in the form of execution, least form of desperation and fortitude to just impose what we’re going to do on the other team.

[Tampa] certainly made good on their chances, there’s no question about that. But I think we led into them way too much and the result is the result that we don’t get points again. We’re four [losses] in a row here, but this needs to stop Saturday [against the Islanders] or the bleeding starts to get profuse after that. The guys are in this room. We know it. We’ve seen it. We need to look in the mirror.”

It goes beyond a thoroughly gross second period, however.

The Bruins last line of defense, No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask, crumbled in the second and third period as things were falling apart around him. Anton Stralman beat him high to the short-side, glove side for the game-tying goal on a transition play, and Jonathan Drouin snapped one past him from the face-off circle that dipped under his glove hand for the game-winner.

It was a soft, inexcusable goal allowed in a hugely important game, and was part of five goals allowed on 28 shots for the former Vezina Trophy winner. After the game Rask seemed frazzled, his voice getting soft and trailing off when it was his turn to accept responsibility for a giant stink bomb tossed down on the Garden ice.

“You have to [pick up the team]. A lot of the time that’s the case, the goalie has to make a couple extra stops there and today I didn’t,” said Tuukka Rask. “That’s part of my job to accept the fact that sometimes it’s your fault. There were a couple of times I should’ve made the save, but it happens sometimes…”

The high pressure situation with things spiraling out of control even seemed to be getting to their best, most established players with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand forcing things down a goal in the third period. Bergeron and Marchand were put back together with David Pastrnak in the second and third periods with Bruce Cassidy looking for answers, and they attempted to execute a D-zone face-off play that’s worked a few times for them in the last few years.

It involves Bergeron winning the draw, and then either Marchand or Pastrnak immediately releasing for a home run pass that can turn into a breakaway opportunity if the opponent is caught napping. Tampa Bay wasn’t caught unaware when the B’s tried it in the middle of the third period, but then Bergeron and Co. kept trying to make it happen.

They ended up icing the puck multiple times trying to make the goal happen in one quick play rather than working for the tying goal, and it killed any momentum they could have possibly started building up for a third period comeback. It also showed a fundamental lack of confidence that they could scratch and claw their way back in on Thursday night, and that’s a definite cause for concern at this time of year.

“At the end of the day, it is a focus, and it’s urgency, and it’s understanding time and score. We did not have a good comprehension of that tonight, I don’t think, and of late,” said Cassidy. “We’ve let games get away, and you can look back, even this year, we’ve had some goals scored against us late throughout the course of the year. It’s been built in this year, and we’re still fighting through it, to be perfectly honest.

“It’s a mindset that we’ve just got to get harder and understand the stakes, and what’s required after you score a goal. I think winning teams get through that, and we’re fighting through it this year. Some nights, we’ve been good at it. We’ve had resiliency, I think. It’s just, lately, it’s creeping in, and we’ve got to nip it in the bud now.”

It hasn’t been just the young players at the heart of this four-game losing streak, and the Tampa loss should have been a wakeup call that the Bruins veterans need to find a way to step up their focus, their effort level and their composure at this time of year. After their fourth loss in a row, the Bruins have frittered away whatever margin for error they once had with just eight games remaining in the regular season.

Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.