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.

Bean: The (incorrect) case for the Bruins signing Kevin Shattenkirk

Bean: The (incorrect) case for the Bruins signing Kevin Shattenkirk

The Bruins should not sign Kevin Shattenkirk. They really shouldn’t. 

Yet they might. Pierre McGuire said on TSN Radio Tuesday that his guess is that Shattenkirk, arguably the best free agent defenseman on the market, will end up in Boston.

It is remarkable how universally against a Shattenkirk megadeal B’s fans have seemingly been. A Twitter poll with over 3,600 votes this month had Bruins fans preferring Boston sign 40-year-old Zdeno Chara to a two-year, $8 million extension than the 28-year-old  Shattenkirk to a seven-year, $45.5 million deal. 

That is obviously the correct conclusion, but considering how hard the false “Chara is old and bad” garbage is pushed in this town, it’s telling that 64 percent would rather he stick around than the team build the defense around Shattenkirk. 

Of course, Shattenkirk is not a bad player just because he’s been overrated in recent seasons. He’s a decent second-pairing defender and strong power play asset who can be penciled in for 40 points a year. The Bruins already have that in Torey Krug, and he makes less than Shattenkirk figures to command. Shattenkirk is also a righty who plays on the right, which is not a need for the Bruins, whereas Krug is a left shot who plays both sides. 

Add in the Bruins’ cap situation due to some bad contracts and they why of Shattenkirk would be a bad signing doesn’t need to be re-hashed. By this point, the explanation’s been given a few times in a few different places. 

So what would the Bruins’ actual case for signing Shattenkirk be? 

TO KEEP IT MOVING 

Last season was encouraging for Bruins fans because it saw them reach the playoffs for the first time in three years while also seeing young talent emerge. Yet they still only made the playoffs by two points, something of which Don Sweeney and Cam Neely are undoubtedly aware. 

So for all the good signs, this could be a fringe playoff team again if more improvements aren’t made, and missing the playoffs for the second time in three years would mark a step back in the eyes of ownership, perhaps putting jobs in danger. It would be a shame if money were spent irresponsibly for the sake of saving jobs, but Shattenkirk would definitely make the Bruins better next season, even if it crippled them financially down the road. 

TO PULL A CHIARELLIAN FREE AGENT SWITCHEROO

With McAvoy set to be a top-pairing player and Brandon Carlo a good second-pairing option, the Bruins do not have a need for a highly paid right-shot defender. That doesn’t mean they don’t have needs elsewhere. 

Last offseason, Peter Chiarelli made the controversial move of trading Taylor Hall, one of the best left wings on the planet. He did it to get Adam Larsson to help build Edmonton’s blue line up, then he went out and signed Milan Lucic in free agency to replace Hall. 

If the Bruins truly have designs on adding Shattenkirk, perhaps they could have something similar in mind: Trade someone like Carlo for either a left-shot defenseman or a left wing, then replace Carlo with Shattenkirk. 

This would still not be financially palatable, however. When the Oilers traded Hall for Larsson, they swapped a player with a $6 million cap hit for a player with a $4.16 million cap hit and replaced the original player (Hall) with a player in Lucic who carried a $6 million cap hit. So essentially they netted one player for an additional $4.16 million. 

Carlo is on his entry level contract, so unless the Bruins traded him for a player on an entry-level deal, they’d be spending a lot of money in any maneuver that involved replacing him with Shattenkirk. 

TO GO ALL-IN ON POST-CLAUDE LIFE

Claude Julien’s detractors lamented his affinity for responsibility. They loved it when Bruce Cassidy was more open to trading chances. 

Well, you like trading chances? Shattenkirk’s your guy. He’s a good skater, a good offensive player and a sub-par defender. You put Krug, Shattenkirk and McAvoy as three of your four top-four defenseman and you’ll be a long way from the days of Chara, Seidenberg and Boychuk, for better or worse. 

BUT, KEEP IN MIND . . . 

They for sure should not sign Kevin Shattenkirk. 

Morning Skate: What does trading a first-rounder get you now?

Morning Skate: What does trading a first-rounder get you now?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading, while wishing that Gordon Hayward and Paul George were already in Boston, like, yesterday.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Elliotte Freidman gives his 30 thoughts for the week, including the trade value of a first-round pick right now.

*It could that non-unrestricted free agents steal all of the thunder on July 1 with massive contract extensions a la Connor McDavid.

*PHT writer James O’Brien has the Detroit Red Wings taking potential fliers on a number of veteran D-men that are out on the free market.

*With free agency right around the corner, the legendary Stan Fischler details the sad end to Bobby Orr’s career in Boston, where he was lied to about the offer extended to him and ended up playing things out with the Chicago Blackhawks in a way that it shouldn’t have gone. The sight of Orr in a Blackhawks sweater is one of the real all-time NHL oddities out there.

*The NCAA is eying college hockey expansion in NHL markets, including the University of Illinois and Pitt, and, from what I’ve been told, perhaps UNLV and maybe even Vanderbilt. This is a great thing for amateur hockey players and anybody that can’t get enough of the game.  

*Ex-Senators defenseman Marc Methot holds no ill will toward the Sens after being dealt from Vegas to the Dallas Stars following his selection in the expansion draft.

*Josh Ho-Sang shares his wisdom to Islanders prospects as a 21-year-old somebody that’s gone through the ups and downs of being in their shoes.

*As we referenced above, Connor McDavid is closing in on a massive contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers that will probably make him the highest paid player in the NHL.

*For something completely different: My heart goes out to this Roslindale family fighting through a situation with a child who has a life-threatening disorder. They have a Go-Fund-Me page, so please give if you can.