Haggerty: Thomas still proving people wrong

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Haggerty: Thomas still proving people wrong

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

PHILADELPHIA There were probably a thousand different scattered thoughts firingthrough the head of Tim Thomas as he was carving out a legendary playoff performance against the Philadelphia Flyers Monday night.

Thomas and the Bruin defense gave up a pair of goals in the first 10 minutes of a crazy, rush-filled first period, but the Bs goalie simply locked it down after his team fell behind, 2-0.

Thomas made a career-high 52 saves in all, with 32 coming in the third period and overtime as he helped Boston steal a 3-2 victory in Game Two over the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center.

The 37-year-old goalie was certainly basking in the win and enjoying the starring role he played in a victory that his team probably didnt deserve. The Bruins certainly wouldnt have captured it if it werent for their Vezina Trophy-worthy world beater.

As the game went on, I was just trying to work hard . . . By the time the third period rolled around I was feeling really good, said Thomas. Fortunately I was feeling good at the right time because they were getting some shots and opportunities. They were keeping me busy in the third period.

But one other thought must have crept into the mind of a goalie who's had to prove people wrong at every level of his career. Perhaps Thomas was wondering whether the Flyers would be interested in him now.

It seems like years ago now, but there was a time last summer when the Bruins were exploring all their salary-cap relief options. Those choices included trading Thomas and his 5 million salary cap tag to a willing team, and people close to Thomas let it be known that Philadelphia is the place he most wanted to go.

But the Flyers werent interested in a middle-aged goaltender coming off major hip surgery and an off season during which he lost his starting job to young understudy Tuukka Rask.

One would think Flyers GM Paul Holmgren might want to rethink that strategy after watching Thomas push his record in Philadelphia to 8-0-0 against the Flyers in the regular season and playoffs.

Holmgren can't be satisfied with the Flyers' current goalie situation. Their coaching staff has made five goaltender changes in nine playoff games, including the back-and-forth yo-yo between Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky in Game Two.

Thomas certainly knows that teams like the Flyers, Capitals, Lightning and Sharks passed up chances to deal for him because, perhaps, they thought he was washed up. But the Bs All-Star goaltender has taken that disbelief and turned it into fuel.

Perhaps one of those teams will win the Stanley Cup, or perhaps Thomas will end each of their playoff seasons in the ultimate act of hockey revenge served cold on the frozen sheet. The truth in Philly, according to more than one hockey source, is that the Flyers a) were never truly interesting in taking on Thomas, and b) dont believe that a goaltender should sit so prominently on the NHL salary-cap food chain.

That certainly doesnt look like the right kind of philosophy, given whats currently going on in the creases of Bruins and Flyers.

Thomas climbed into The Zone starting in the third period, as he engineered a series of breathtaking saves against James van Riemsdyk and Mike Richards (18 shots between those two players in Game 2), but he saved his best for last.

The Flyers won a faceoff deep in the Boston zone in the waning seconds of the third period, and it looked like Philly had itself a win when van Riemsdyk leveled a quick little spin-o-rama wrist shot through a screen. Somehow Thomas picked up the puck and kicked the shot away with a right leg pad save, and then got a little lucky when Daniel Briere fumbled the puck with a lot of open space near the left post.

That momentary stumble gave Dennis Seidenberg a chance to recover, and he shooed the puck away from the net and any further threats from the dangerous Flyers.

This is one of the most dangerous faceoff teams in the defensive zone when you play against them, said Thomas. Theyve got a lot of different things they can do and theyve already scored once in this series on a play like that. So I knew the face-off could be dangerous.

For just a second there it went behind a screen and I saw it just as van Riemsdyk was throwing it at the net. I saw it so late that I couldnt control the rebound, and I saw the puck go to Daniel Brieres feet. In that 1100th of a second I thought it might be over because hes one of those guys that gets them. He fumbled it just long enough for Seidenberg to get over and block one, and then I was just waiting for that buzzer. It was a relief when that buzzer happened.

Thomas knew he was both good and lucky in that flurry of action at the end of the period, but thats been the story of his career as hes created luck between the pipes through ideal positioning and expansive knowledge of the dangerous offensive players around the NHL.

Those things put Thomas in a class by himself when hes rested, motivated and feeling just a slight pang of having something to prove. That's the way he was all season as he likely earned a second career Vezina Trophy along with an NHL-record .938 save percentage.

But doing it in the playoffs is especially satisfying, since he had only a single playoff series win under his resume headed into this postseason.

Andrew Ference has always believed in Thomas, and didn't hesitate when asked when he knew it was going to be a special year for Thomas.

Training camp," said Ference.

"He hasnt missed too many nights, he added. Timmy was pretty sick. There is nobody better than him. Hes unbelievable. That third period and overtome Monday night was just a clinic. I dont even know what to say anymore.

One guy thats definitely glad a Thomas trade was never made: the guy that would have had to pull the trigger.

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli walked out of the Bs dressing room postgame and breathed a sigh of relief, as if a dramatic weight had been lifted by the victory. He knew he watched his team win a game in which they were outplayed because of a scalding hot goalie. And he knows just how demoralizing that can be to a team doing everything possible to score.

Tonight Thomas was ridiculous. Hes gotten better every game, said Chiarelli. Thats one of the best goaltending performances Ive seen in a long time. Were just hoping to get more of it.

The Flyers are hoping their goaltending nightmare ends soon, but its beginning to look more and more like this might be the Year of Tim Thomas.

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

Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

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Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

BROOKLYN, NY – It wasn’t particularly entertaining and it won’t be all that memorable down the ride aside from the timing and importance of the meeting between the Bruins and Islanders. But it was a solid 2-1 team win for the Bruins over the Islanders at the Barclays Center on Saturday night with the B’s grinding all the way down to the end while protecting a one-goal lead through much of the third period.

Nearly everybody across Boston’s roster contributed in the major victory over the team trying to bypass them in the wild card standings, and it was a beautiful thing. Anton Khudobin stepped up when Tuukka Rask couldn’t start Saturday night’s showdown with a lower body issue, and Riley Nash supplied both Boston goals from a fourth line that’s played some of their best hockey lately.

It was unlikely heroes all around for the Black and Gold in the tightly-wound contest, but that diversity of talent and production can be a very good thing for a team looking to make that playoff push.

“You have to stay with it. You have to stay in the moment and stay with the game no matter what’s happening during the game. That’s how you get results, and that’s how you find ways to persevere through adversity,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We just got back to playing stingy, especially in the neutral zone. We got away from it the last few games, and it was nice tonight to be back playing a low-scoring game like what we’re used to playing.”

When it was all said and done the Bruins only allowed 19 shots on net and also killed off six penalties in the kind of grinding defensive showdown that you haven’t seen all that much out of the Black and Gold lately. It was exactly what Cassidy was looking for to snap the four-game losing streak, and once again start pushing the Bruins upward into the playoff chase.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard and fighting that hard to see pucks and find pucks and your D are blocking shots. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Cassidy. “From the goalie on out, everybody was in there [in the win]. It was a tough game. It was a nice Bruins win. We had been doing it with offense earlier, and we’ve got to be able to do it both ways. You need to be able to win 2-1 hockey games, and it had been awhile.”

Now it’s simply up to the Bruins to be feeling good about their latest win while going back to basics, and looking for more next time around after ending their worst losing streak of the season.

Anton Khudobin battles for a huge win filling in for Tuukka Rask

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Anton Khudobin battles for a huge win filling in for Tuukka Rask

BROOKLYN, NY – Things didn’t go so well last season for the Bruins when Tuukka Rask suddenly wasn’t well enough to play in the last game of the season, so there was good reason for the B’s to be a little nervous when their No. 1 goalie again couldn’t answer the bell Saturday night vs. the Islanders.

Anton Khudobin had won four games in a row headed into Saturday night, of course, and in his previous start he’d helped snap a 10-game winning streak for the Calgary Flames. So perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising when Khudobin stood tall for the Bruins making 18 saves in a tight, nervy 2-1 win over the Isles at the Barclays Center.

“You don’t have that many shots, but maybe 10 scoring chances…that can be tougher than seeing 30 shots and same amount of scoring chances,” said Khudobin. “But I’m glad got the job done, we got our points and we got the ‘W’.”

It wasn’t wall-to-wall action in a game where both teams combined for 37 shots on net, but it was still impressive that Khudobin and the B’s special teams killed off six Islander power plays in such a tight hockey game. After the B’s backup netminder was lauded for the way he battled in the crease and competed for pucks like his team’s very life was on the line in a pivotal game.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard, and fighting that hard to see pucks and your D are blocking shots. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I loved his performance. He’s a battler. He got swimming a couple of times, but that’s Dobby. He keeps it interesting for you. He’s a battler and he always has been. That’s what we needed tonight.”

One could spend days analyzing Cassidy's words and wondering much of that was deserved, appreciative praise for Khudobin, and how much of that might have been a veiled message to Boston's No. 1 goaltender sitting back home in Boston. 

The best save of the night probably won’t even count as a save for the Russian netminder. It was John Tavares, after having beaten Khudobin once in the first period, moving into the offensive zone with speed during a third period power play, and getting an open look at the net front in the high slot. Khudobin thought quickly and dropped into the unconventional double-stack pad save that seemed to throw Tavares off just a little, and the Isles sniper smoked the shot off the crossbar rather than tying up the game.

“I didn’t touch it. I didn’t really have time to get there, so the only thing I tried to do was the two-pad stack, old school Bob Essensa-style,” said Khudobin, who has now improved to 6-5-1 with a 2.60 goals against and an .899 save percentage this season. “Then he hit the crossbar. You need to get some luck in this league, and if you don’t get luck you’re going to lose games.”

A little luck and a little good, old-fashioned battling between the pipes was enough for Khudobin and the Bruins in Saturday night’s mammoth win. Now the questions become whether or not to go right back to Khudobin again on Tuesday at home against the Nashville Predators.