SUNRISE, Fla. – The Bruins are looking to get some points against two teams that should be basement dwellers in the Atlantic Division as they swing through Florida this week, but that isn’t on most people’s minds around the NHL world.
Instead, inquiring hockey minds want to know how things go down with 39-year-old Tim Thomas when he suits up against his former Bruins team on Thursday night at the BB&T Center. Thomas has missed a couple games with a tweaked groin, but will be returning to play his former Black and Gold bandmates in a game where the goaltender clearly must have a thing or two to prove.
Thomas has declined to speak with the media over the past two days, instead deferring all his comments until after the game is played on Thursday night. There isn’t all that much to say after he walked away from the final year of his contract with the Bruins to reconnect with “Friends, Faith and Family” in pastoral Colorado, but returned this season to the Florida Panthers with renewed vigor.
Most Bruins players simply voiced the appreciation for the Stanley Cup experience Thomas was a key part of three years ago, but there’s also little doubt Boston wants to prove just how good they are without him.
“This is the first time it’ll be a starting goalie that we’ll be playing against that we shot on in practice 100, 200, 300 . . . I don’t even know how many different times,” said Milan Lucic. “It’s different, too, because he was such a big part of this team for so many years. Both sides are looking forward to it. You look back at the saves he used to make in games where he was out of position, and everything else. So for a scouting report I don’t even know where to start. It’s a lot different than practice.
“As a teammate he was everything you would want as far as coming to play every night, and bringing that competitive edge all the time," Lucic said. "I won’t say anything bad about him. I got to spend five years with him and got to see the best level that any goalie played at in those five years. That’s the most you could ask from your goaltender. He was a big part of us winning.”
It remains to be seen just how much jawing and interaction there will be between Thomas and his former teammates while the game is going on, but there’s little doubt it will be high hockey theater either way.
PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Jarome Iginla leads the Bruins with 19 shots on net and has enjoyed umpteen scoring chances in his five games with Boston, but hasn’t been able to make any of them count as of yet. He did make a nice play on the penalty kill that turned into a pass setting up Chris Kelly for an important goal in the victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he certainly appears to be the guy that came as advertised to Boston. Still, a goal would certainly ease some of the pressure after he flubbed a couple sure shots from the left face-off circle in the loss to the Red Wings.
DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: “It’s really important for us to get the two points and get off to a good start. We feel like we played a good game against Detroit the last time out, but we lost. We don’t want to lose two in a row. We need those two points and it doesn’t matter who is playing against us.” –David Krejci, who is not focused much on the Tim Thomas aspect of tonight’s tilt against the Panthers.
KEY MATCHUP: Who is anybody kidding? It’s Tim Thomas against his former Bruins teammates, Tim Thomas against Bruins management, Tim Thomas against the media that wronged him at the end of his run in Boston and pretty much Tim Thomas against the world in his first game against his former team. One would expect to be Tim Thomas at his best, but what “his best” is as a 39-year-old with a balky groin, who appears to be out of shape after skipping training camp, remains to be seen.
STAT TO WATCH: 2-5-3 – the Panthers’ record in their last 10 games against the Bruins, which have featured a lot of uninspired hockey that unfailingly leads to a Florida defeat.
INJURIES: Carl Soderberg (sprained ankle) is on the injured reserve, and has been ruled out for Thursday night’s opener after catching a rut on the ice in Saskatoon. Marc Savard (post-concussion syndrome) is on the long term injured reserve, and is again expected to miss the entire season.
Sean Bergenheim (lower body), Steve Pinizzotto (lower body), Ed Jovanoski (hip surgery) are all out for the Florida Panthers, and Tim Thomas will be returning Thursday night from a groin he tweaked last week.
GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tuukka Rask became the highest-paid goaltender in the NHL after signing an eight-year deal this summer that will pay him $7 million per season, so he’ll be looking to bounce back from a season-worst game in the loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Clearly Rask will also be looking to prove that he can beat his mentor after playing with him for three years in Boston. On the other hand, Thomas probably wants to show the Bruins a thing or two after feeling like he was wronged in any of number of ways by the organization. Clearly knowing he wasn’t going to be re-signed by the Bruins once his last contract had expired, Thomas walked away from Boston before they could walk away from him. Now he returns as a 39-year-old looking to improve on very uncharacteristic .850 save percentage and 5.02 goals against average in three appearances this season.