Haggerty: Thomas finally turns it on in the third

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Haggerty: Thomas finally turns it on in the third

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

MONTREAL There were a lot of heavy criticisms being weighed at Tim Thomas heading into Monday nights Game 3 at the Bell Centre home of the Canadiens.

Some were fair and some werent, but he answered all of them with a third period for the ages.

Thomas has obviously proven everything he needs to during the regular season, but hes always had a difficult time recreating his uniquely magical brand of goaltending during the playoffs. The 37-year-old had never really stolen a playoff game for the Bruins in his four years of playoffs, and hes only captured one series victory in four tries at the Stanley Cup playoffs.

His save percentage after two games against Montreal sat at .891. He set the NHL record for that statistic during the regular season so something was clearly amiss.

With questions swirling about his game after a couple of juicy rebounds surrendered in Bostons Game 2 loss, Thomas looked to be on something close to a mission while standing on his head for 14 saves in a 4-2 win for Boston at the Bell Centre Monday night.

I was happy to get the win. The team needed it . . . I needed it, said Thomas, with an allusion toward the less-than-stellar way the series began for Bostons elite goaltender.

That it all came after Thomas had fallen victim to a pair of five-hole scores from Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec in the final two periods was a tribute to the Boston goaltenders determination and experience in dusting off miscues.

It seems big-game experience combined with his still-sharp goaltending skills are finally marrying into a formidable postseason goaltender, serving notice to Montreal attackers theres no discernible difference between regular-season Timmy and playoff Timmy.

Either way, thou shalt not pass with the puck.

Thats Timmy, said Patrice Bergeron. You look at his career and what hes been through, and where hes at now. Hes amazing. You cant question his mental stuff. Hes a battler and hes a competitor. Im just happy to have him with us.

The Thomas highlight stop with four minutes remaining in the third period on Kostitsyn from the edge of right face-off dot was equal parts aggressive and confident. It was a statement that the Canadiens werent going to tie things up easily with a 3-2 score on the board.

Mike Cammalleri set Kostitsyn up with a nifty little drop-back pass, and the Belarus native was turned away by Thomas without any of the superfluous movement that can sometimes creep into the goalie's game. Thomas simply kept telling himself how good it was going to feel once hed mastered the chaos and chances around the net in the third period. He came through with save after save after glorious save.

Call it the Timmy happy place, if you must.

It was nerve-wracking, but it also felt great, said Thomas when asked what it was like to battle through the chaos while Montreal leveled 15 shots at him. It was great to have the lead and be battling from that side of it. You just kept thinking its going to feel good if you end up on top.

After smothering Kostitsyns sniper bid, Thomas pounced on a point-blank chance from Scott Gomez directly on the doorstep and fought off the underachieving Montreal forward for the puck before earning a play stoppage.

It was a little bit street hockey-style at times, but it worked as the Canadiens flooded him with shots in a third period. Montreal outshoot the Bruins by a 15-6 margin, but Thomas never gave an inch after his two miscues.

Steeled by the failures just 48 hours prior on his own home ice, Thomas felt like he had a lot to prove to his teammates, the fans and most importantly to himself after hovering somewhere between average and rented goalie in the first few games of the series.

In the third period Thomas ascended from rented goalie to Vezina Special, and the Habs have to be concerned the notoriously streaky Boston goalie is about to rip off one of his patented otherworldly stretches.

Nothing can get by him when Thomas is feeling it and he seemed to be feeling something in the final 15 minutes.

He made some big saves, said Claude Julien. The fact that he could do that shows a lot of character because theres no doubt hed like to have those two goals back. But he could have had negative thoughts and not been sharp, but doing what he did meant he wanted to redeem himself.

Those saves were huge because if he didnt make them then youre looking at a tie game in their building.

Thomas has learned a lot over his nearly 850 career hockey games in the ECAC, ECHL, Finland, Sweden, the AHL, IHL, NHL, and all points in between and perhaps the biggest lesson is its not about how you start, its about how you finish. And Thomas punched an exclamation point in the final period with the way he controlled everything between his pipes while giving his team some life.

The real Thomas and the rest of the sleeping Bruins have finally woken up, and now the playoff series is about to get very interesting.

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

Bergeron and Marchand convinced Backes to join Bruins

Bergeron and Marchand convinced Backes to join Bruins

JAMAICA PLAIN -- For those excited about the idea of an intense, hard-hitting David Backes in a Bruins uniform for the next five years, you have Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to partially thank.

Backes, 32, didn’t know either of them all that well prior to this summer, aside from his experiences on ice against them. But Bergeron and Marchand called Backes multiple times while recruiting him to Boston, and it was a major factor in the former Blues captain signing a five-year, $30 million deal with the B's.

“Being an outsider, we need to have a little bit of confession here that Marchand is the kind of guy that gets under everybody’s skin. I was no different,” said the 6-foot-3, 221-pound Backes, who has 206 goals and 460 points in 727 career NHL games, all with St. Louis. “But then talking to him a little bit in the interview process prior to July 1, I hung up the phone and had to take a deep breath and say to myself, ‘That little disturber, he’s actually a pretty good guy.’ Those guys end up being the best teammates.

“A guy like Bergeron, when you play against him [he's] always in the right spot, and is never making mistakes. Those types of guys, again, are guys you want on your team, and guys you want to go to war with. They’re All-World players, Bergeron is an All-World player. But he’s also a down-to-earth guy that puts his work boots on, takes his lunch pail and plays his butt off. He’s nice to the young kids, and he’s nurturing in helping them come along. I think you’ve seen in the NHL that you need a few guys on entry-level deals, or a few guys to outperform their contracts, in order to have success in the salary-cap era. That nurturing and mentorship can really foster those kinds of performances.”

While Backes went on to mention Zdeno Chara as another highly respected, formidable opponent with whom he’ll now share a dressing room, it was interesting to note that players who currently have letters on their sweaters, like Chara and David Krejci, didn’t play a part in the recruiting process. Instead it was the next captain of the team (Bergeron) and a player (Marchand) currently in the middle of negotiations entering the last year of his contract.

“I talked to both Bergeron and Marchand twice before July 1," said Backes. "Just the way that they spoke about their team mentality, and teaming up together and sharing the load of hard minutes that need to be played, and also sharing the load of the offensive necessities that a team has . . . those things just rang true to my beliefs of a team.

“You’re all equals whether you’re the top-paid guy, or the top-minute guy, or the low-minute guy, or the guy that’s playing every other game because you’re the healthy scratch in the other games.

“We all needed to be treated equal, and do whatever we can to support the next guy. When the next guy has success, we have to be just as happy as if we scored the goal. That’s the type of thing where, when you get that from the full 20 guys on the ice, it’s so tough to be beat. Those are the teams that win championships.”

It will be interesting to see just how much involvement Backes has with the Bergeron and Marchand combination. He could very easily be a right-wing fit with those two dynamic forwards next season, or he could be a third-line center behind Bergeron and Krejci and give the Bruins elite depth down the middle of the ice.

True to his team-oriented nature, Backes said he’ll be happy to play at either position and do whatever Claude Julien feels is best.

Backes introduces Bruins fans to his 'Athletes for Animals' charity

Backes introduces Bruins fans to his 'Athletes for Animals' charity

JAMAICA PLAIN -- David Backes probably could have opted to have his introductory press conference inside the Bruins dressing room at TD Garden, or maybe even in some finished part of the team's new practice facility in Brighton, which is set to open a couple of months from now.

Instead, the new Bruins forward met face-to-face with the media for the first time while taking a tour of the MSPCA and, in the process, introducing Bruins fans to his “Athletes for Animals” charity, a foundation that promotes rescuing -- and protecting the welfare of -- homeless pets nationwide.

Backes took pictures with a pit bull named Greta that’s been at the MSPCA Adoption Center for the last seven months looking for a “forever home”.

And as he spoke, it became abundantly clear that this is what the 32-year-old former St. Louis Blues captain is all about.

“[Taking a tour of the facility] gives you a warm feeling inside, and makes you feel like you’re already a part of the city while helping give some attention to the great work that they’re doing,” said Backes, the owner of four dogs (Maverick, Rosey, Marty, Bebe) and two cats (Sunny, Poly), who is house-hunting in Boston this week with his wife and 13-month-old daughter.

“Hopefully this will be just the beginning of our connecting with the community, and helping serve the people that are great fans of the Bruins and that will be watching us every night. [Hopefully] they’re watching us go on deep playoff runs year after year.”

Backes’ efforts with rescue animals gained national notoriety when he took time to help with the stray dog situation in Sochi, Russia during the last Winter Olympics. But the roots of his “Athletes for Animals” charity goes back to his college days at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“The full story is that in college we wanted an animal or two, but it just wasn’t responsible because we were renting and the landlords didn’t approve," he said "We just didn’t really have the time or resources to support them, so we volunteered at the local shelter for the three years I was in school.

“When my wife [Kelly] and I moved to St. Louis, we wanted to connect with the community, be a part and use our voice to influence social change to do our part making the world a little bit of a better place. So we said ‘Why not connect with the animal welfare rescue community?’

“We absolutely love doing it: Walking dogs, scooping litter boxes and cleaning kennels. Let’s use our voice to kick this off and see what we can do, and it really just snowballed from that to then trying to tie other guys into it. It’s not limited to the animal stuff, but the animals that don’t have a voice, and the kids that don’t have a voice, really tug at our heart strings. We want to help them with this blessing of a great voice we’ve been given as professional athletes, and to really use that to give them some help.”

For these reasons alone, Backes is a great fit in Boston. The Bruins donate heavily to the MSPCA and were one of the first NHL organizations to come up with the Pucks ‘N Pups calendar, which each year features Bruins players and their dogs, or strays from the MSPCA, to raise money for the animal welfare organization.

To learn more about Backes’ organization, “Athletes for Animals,” visit http://athletesforanimals.org .