Thomas steps up in playoff atmosphere

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Thomas steps up in playoff atmosphere

By DannyPicard
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- @font-face font-family: "Times New Roman";p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; table.MsoNormalTable font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; div.Section1 page: Section1; This was a playoff game for the Devils.

Not literally, maybe, but if New Jersey wanted to continue its late-season surge intothe postseason, it was going to have to turn on an impressive winning streak,beginning with a victory over the Bruins on Tuesday night at the TD Garden.

The B's on the other hand, hadn't clinched anything yet entering Tuesdaynight. But barring a major disaster in the final 11 games of the regularseason, it's all but guaranteed the Bruins will make the playoffs.

Still, they found themselves in a bit of a rut, and it was time for Tim Thomasand the B's defense to play like the stingy defense they know they can be.

It had the feel of the postseason. Thomas vs. Martin Brodeur. Claude Julien vs.the organization that canned him a week before the 2007 playoffs, whenthe Devils were in first place in their division.

Everyone thought this was going to be a defensive battle. Then the Devilsrattled off 16 shots in the first 20 minutes, dominating the play in theBruins' zone, while the B's only had six shots in the first period.

But Boston went into the intermission tied 1-1 with New Jersey. And the B'sescaped the game with a surge in the final 40 minutes, scoring three moregoals, and defeating the Devils 4-1.

Milan Lucic's game-winning assist, followed by his nail-in-the-coffin 30th goalof the season late in the third, stole the spotlight on Tuesday night's gutsywin over a New Jersey team that, regardless of its record, would be one of themore dangerous opponents in the East if it makes the playoffs.

But what can't be overlooked is the play of Thomas, who made 30 saves whileearning his 30th win of the season.

Not too bad for the 36-year-old goaltender who, a year ago at this time, had lost his starting job to Tuukka Rask.

Thomas is on his way to earning a second Vezina Trophy in three years, buteverybody in Boston -- especially the Bruins faithful -- knows that it's notabout regular-season performances. It's about what happens in the postseason.For regular season Vezina trophies might as well be thrown out the window themoment that puck is dropped in Game One of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Just ask Thomas, who saw his Bruins team sleep on a lesser Carolina Hurricanesteam in the second round two years ago. Thomas' Vezina-winning regularseason had led the Bruins to the top seed in the East, and then they were ousted in roundtwo.

But while Tuesday night won't be recorded as a playoff win for Thomas and theB's, it was as close to a postseason game as you'll get, with the opposing teamdesperate for a win to keep its hopes alive.

And when New Jersey came out of the gate with a purpose,Thomas stood tall. He made 15 first-period saves when his over-matched B'sneeded him most, much like how they'll need him to step up in an actual playoffgame next month.

"Same old, right? Him and Tuukka, whoever's in net, we probably take itfor granted a little bit, because it's very rare that they're not extremelysolid," said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference after the win.

"They just give our team a level of confidence, and I think tonight,definitely, when it took a few minutes for us to really find our game, toloosen up a bit. There's been a lot said, but he's just been solid. And I thinkthat's all you can really say. That sums it up, really."

Thomas went 0-2-2 in his previous four starts, but nobody in the Bruins lockerroom was worried that their veteran goaltender, and team MVP, was losing astep.

"I don't think we have to worry about him," said coach Claude Julien. "He's been a good goaltender for us this year. He certainly wasn't aconcern."

That's why there was perhaps so little said about Thomas after the game. Thattype of performance is expected, even against a guy like Brodeur on the otherside.

"I think he outbattles everybody that shoots the puck at him," saidFerence. "Marty Brodeur and Timmy, they're going to play their own game.They're both going to be great. But the competition is more Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk versusTimmy.

"Thomas is going to rise to the challenge when he's in those big games. Heenjoys being the guy, and that's a great trait for a goalie."

Kovalchuk finished the night with a game-high six shots, and scored NewJersey's lone goal on a power play in the first period.

But other than that, Thomas was rock solid. And he credited it to his defenseallowing him to see the puck a little more than in previous games.

"I just think of it, just, I've got to stop as many pucks that make itto the net as possible," said Thomas on New Jersey's first-period attack."Because I have to be ready to play if I only get five shots. So I don'twant to hope for any different way. I just want to react, in other words."

Thomas reacted, on Tuesday night, the way the Bruins are accustomed to himreacting. And that usually means him stopping the puck. They just need him toalso react like that in the playoffs.

And since Tuesday night was the closest thing you can get to a playoff game without actually being in one, that's a good sign.

Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard. You can listen to Danny on hisstreaming radio show I'm Just Sayin' Monday-Friday from9-10 a.m. on CSNNE.com.

Krug: Bruins collapse 'is not going to happen this year'

Krug: Bruins collapse 'is not going to happen this year'

BOSTON – Having lost three games in a row for the first time under Bruce Cassidy at time of year when you can’t drop into losing streaks, Bruins fans clearly want some sense of surety when it comes to the B’s making the playoffs.

Well, they got an ironclad guarantee from Torey Krug after he was the best B’s player on the ice in a 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden. Krug has been a part of the teams that collapsed in each of the past two seasons and the puck-moving defenseman said things are going to be different this time around with nine games to go.

“I haven’t thought about it, I haven’t talked about it. It’s a different feeling this year. [A collapse] is not going to happen this year. I know we’ve got a lot of pride in this room,” said Krug, who elevated his game and scored on a nifty, Bobby Orr-esque one-man rush up the ice in the third period. He also had a team-high seven shots on net and led the B’s in ice time in the loss. “The guys that have been through it. There’s no other option except making sure we stay on course and take care and do our jobs.

“You feel like you played pretty well and things didn’t go your way. You make a big mistake and it cost you. You got to realize what’s done is done, and we have an important task on Thursday [vs. the Lightning]. We’ve got to come to the rink with no other option except winning that game. That’s the mindset we’ve got to have.”

The Black and Gold are still in a pretty good position when it comes to the playoffs, even if their lead over Toronto in the Atlantic Division is precarious right now. But it ultimately comes down to Boston summoning against Tampa Bay and the Islanders what they didn’t, or couldn’t, against Toronto and Ottawa, and making good on Krug’s defiant words following a bitter defeat. 


 

Bruins hope familiar lack of finish isn't cropping up again

Bruins hope familiar lack of finish isn't cropping up again

BOSTON – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Bruins outshot an opponent, lost and then lamented their lack of finish on a bevy of scoring plays while begrudgingly tipping their hats to a hot goaltender.

It was the scenario for many disappointing losses in the first 55 games of the season under Claude Julien, and it was a little too eerily reminiscent in a 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden on Tuesday night. 

Certainly it’s just one game and there has been far too much good as of late to believe the Bruins are cannon-balling into a pool of previous bad habits. But giving up a goal in the second period while watching Craig Anderson make 18 second-period saves at the other end of the ice was a stark reminder of the bad old days.

“We struggled up in Ottawa getting through [the neutral zone], tonight I thought we did a better job,” said Torey Krug. “A win against that system is just getting the puck behind them and going in on the fore-check. We’ll take that every time. We did well, but we’ve got to find a way to get more goals on the scoreboard.”

Certainly there some stellar saves: A flashy glove hand on a Noel Acciari backhander from the slot and a couple of stops on Frank Vatrano in tight around the net come to mind. But there were also some light, perimeter play kind of nights from Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak where the turnovers (a combined eight giveaways between the two forwards) and loose play were coming fast and furious.

That’s the stuff that needs to improve after watching Ottawa score on three redirections with bodies camped in front of the net.

“There are some,” admitted Bruce Cassidy when asked about parallels to some darker days earlier in the season. “Some of it you have to give credit to the goaltender you’re playing. Look at his numbers, he’s been very good. I’m not going to look too far back. I think we had good looks off the rush – he [Craig Anderson] made saves. We did have our D come late, get a couple of good looks, and that’s something we’ve really worked on. We had a D join and score. That was actually a nice individual score. So, those parts of our game, I think, it just ebbs and flows over the course of the year where you run into hot goaltending and you have to stay with it.

“That’s when you have to keep the puck out of your net. [In Toronto], we were right there until two minutes to go where even though we weren’t scoring, we were in a position to get points. [Against the Senators] it was a breakdown right after we scored, so I think the focus has to be when you’re having tough luck around the net, you need to get points. And maybe these games end up 1-1, 2-2, they’re going into shootouts or overtime and you accumulate your points that way. I think that’s where the last two games have been disappointing. You know, we should have had points. It may not have been wins, but we should have been there at the end and playing 65 minutes, or whatever it took to finish it.”

The silver lining, of course, is that the Bruins didn't get bogged down in Guy Boucher's 1-3-1 trap and were able to dictate play a bit more while never actually leading in the game. But that does little good when won-loss results and points in the coffers are all that matters in the final weeks. 

Perhaps some of the offensive scale-back in the past few games has been by design after letting up seven goals to Edmonton in the Western Canada road finale, but it’s also about being tougher and more determined around the net.

Ottawa won that net-front battle on Tuesday night and subsequently won the hockey game, so it’s time for the Bruins to do that exact thing if they want better results vs. the Lightning and Islanders later this week.