SUNRISE, Fla. -- Milan Lucic couldn’t help but let out a good-natured laugh when asked if it will be more difficult for Tim Thomas to give him the “Sedin treatment” if the Bruins power forward is jostling with him in the crease.
“Yeah. He’s never a guy that shies away and brings a competitive edge,” said Lucic. “I might have a little bit of a different response, too.”
Perhaps everybody will get to see such jawing coming to fruition Thursday night. The Florida Panthers announced via Twitter that 39-year-old Thomas will play against his former team at the BB&T Center.
It will be part of a busy first month of the season when the Bruins play the new teams for former Cup teammates in Columbus (Nathan Horton), Florida (Thomas) and Dallas (Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley).
Thomas has been out since tweaking a groin in an Oct. 8 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, but had practiced the last few days before being cleared to play against the team he won a Stanley Cup with three seasons ago.
Claude Julien was Thomas’ coach for five years in Boston, and has been consistent about his respect for the goalie's accomplishments while also focusing on the task at hand.
“We’ve kind of turned the page on that,” said Julien. “We need to win some games on this road trip. I don’t think it’s any different than playing against other guys that we’ve traded. We’ve traded guys that were really popular on our team, like playing [Mark Stuart] in Winnipeg.
“You lose players like that, who are liked and well-respected in the dressing room . . . you’ve got to turn the page. It’s the same thing with Timmy. Timmy has a new career going on here in Florida, and we’ve got our own things to take care of. So it’s more about putting the past aside for this game, and doing the job we came here for: winning a hockey game.”
It will be interesting to see how Thomas looks after sitting out for more than a year when he opted to walk away from the final season of his Bruin contract. It won’t be as interesting as what he has to say about exiting Boston when he speaks to the media after Thursday night’s game -- he declined to speak today, saying he would talk after the game -- but still interesting nonetheless.
He was solid in his debut win over the Dallas Stars, but the 5.02 goals-against average and .850 save percentage in his three appearances are very un-Thomas-like. Those who have watched Thomas this season contend that his lower half is much thicker than it used to be during his playing days with Boston, and that’s contributed to both the performance and the nagging injury issues. So has missing most of training camp, as he didn't sign with Florida until just before the season started.
Still, he gets plenty of respect from his former teammates.
“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 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. 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 will also clearly be different for Tuukka Rask, who was his understudy for three seasons, including one year where Rask stepped up when hip issues were hampering Thomas. Seeing Thomas at the other end of the ice in something other than practice will be a whole different ballgame.
“It’ll be fine,” said Rask. “We practiced [against] each other many years, so I don’t think it’s going to be any different. We both practice how we play. It will just be lots more people in the stands watching. I never thought we’d play against each other, but I’m glad he made his comeback.
“We’re one game over .500 right now. We just want to win and improve that record. It doesn’t matter if it’s against Timmy or somebody else.”
It sounds like it’s largely business-as-usual for the Bruins in search of two points in Florida on Thursday night, but there’s a distinct sense it might be a little personal for the guy at the other end of the ice. Thomas should be highly motivated against the teammates he won a Stanley Cup with, and that’s usually when the 39-year-old is at his show-stopping best.