By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON Tim Thomas saw Senators forward Erik Condra rushing in on him all alone in the third period with no Bruins defenders in the area to slow him down.
It was a 2-1 game at the time and the Bs goaltender had been thinking about this kind of moment for more than a week.
Thats because hed entered the weekend with a .9376 save percentage that was going to be good enough to set the NHL single season record for save percentage since the statistic had been recorded since the 1983-84 season. But Thomas wanted to get ready for the playoffs with one last game and wanted to earn the record, and that was the 36-year-olds moment of truth.
So he tried to banish any NHL record thoughts out of his head.
To be completely honest, I had a hard time getting it off my mind over the past week or so, said Thomas. But actually I mentally prepared myself yesterday not to think about that and to play. I think Im still in that mode a little bit. It hasnt affected me; it hasnt set in yet. Part of thats because we still have business to take care of against the Devils tomorrow.
Hed already let one goal past him when Shane Hnidy turned over a puck in front of the net, and then added to his gaffe by taking Thomas out of the play as he crashed into him while allowing Bobby Butler an easy score.
So Thomas wasnt about to let anymore pass, and he somehow caught Condras shot in between his pads while dropping into a coffin-style position on the ground lying straight out as the puck settled underneath him. The Bs goaltender said he had no idea whether hed kept the puck from squeezing through, and it was pure coincidence that it was the same mummy save Dominik Hasek trademarked during his time with the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings.
Bs coach Claude Julien knew that Thomas wanted the record deep down, and it appeared his Bruins teammates rose to the occasion around their ace goaltender after the Hnidy miscue early in the game.
Hes had a good year for us and I think deep down it seemed to matter to himso it was important for the rest of our team to help him through it and play as best as they could, said Julien. He made some great saves again tonight for us, but I think, for the rest of the team, I think they really wanted him to get that.
It was also Hasek that had his NHL record fall when Thomas finished with 31 saves in Saturdays 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden the Czech goaltender put up a .9366 save percentage mark with the Sabres in 1998-99 and had nearly a 15-year run with the record before Thomas came along.
The Bs goalie admitted that Hasek was an influence on Thomas goaltending style when he was starring for the University of Vermont Catamounts during the mid-1990s, and it was only fitting one unorthodox goalie surpassed the other one.
Dominik Hasek was a hero of mine back when I was in college: a guy who played unconventional and had a ton of success. Even at college age I was already labeled as somebody with my style and that I couldnt do it at the next level, said Thomas. And so he was an inspiration. Just actually still seeing him and knowing that hes playing. He won the Czech League not this year but the season before in Czech. Im still impressed with what hes been able to accomplish.
Thomas put the finishing touches on his Vezina Trophy resume by totaling a .9381 save percentage for the season in 56 appearances, and the record was clinched when Claude Julien announced after the game that Tuukka Rask will play Sunday against the New Jersey Devils.
That means the past three Bruins seasons under head coach Claude Julien have left the Bs with three of the top eight save percentage seasons in NHL history (Thomas twice in 2008-09 and this season, and Tuukka Rask in 2009-10), and Thomas was more than happy to spread the credit around for some impressive work keeping pucks out of the net.
That number there is a testament to the team in front of me and the way that they battled for me all year long: defensemen and forwards, said Thomas. It also reflects probably one of the best -- if not the best -- defenseman Zdeno Chara in our world out there in front of me that I think should be getting a little bit more Norris talk than at least Ive heard. Maybe he is, I dont know. I dont hear that much. But hes been stellar for us all year playing against the top players on every team, night in and night our and just doing a great job. So that save percentage number is the team number.
Julien said after the game that Chara and Mark Recchi will remain in Boston and get a day of rest rather than traveling to New Jersey for the final game of the season against the Devils in Newark. Patrice Bergeron and Dennis Seidenberg were given a day of rest against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday afternoon with both Tyler Seguin and Shane Hnidy playing.
Marlboro, Mass. Native Bobby Butler played his first NHL game at TD Garden on Saturday afternoon, and had a memorable game while scoring a goal in the first period against the Bruins. The former UNH standout was a Bruins fan growing up, and has been a solid rookie for Ottawa over the second half of the season with 10 goals scored for the young Senators.
Butler estimated he had roughly 60 friends, family and former UNH teammates in the stands on Saturday afternoon, and was excited to play in Boston despite the fact his father was in Minnesota attending the Frozen Four tournament.
It was definitely exciting to get out there on the ice, and good to be back there, said Butler. It is good to see some familiar faces out there.
Boston RW Mark Recchi played his 1,652nd game, passing Chris Chelios for fourth place on the NHLs career games played list