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

Czarnik 'playing bigger' while looking to secure job with Bruins

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Czarnik 'playing bigger' while looking to secure job with Bruins

It’s not difficult to see why Austin Czarnik might have been a little overlooked headed into this Bruins training camp when forecasting favorites among the forwards to win a roster spot on the big club. After all he’s only 5-foot-9 and 167-pounds coming off just one very solid season at the AHL level for the Providence Bruins, and there are bigger, stronger forwards candidates that maybe rank a bit higher on the prospect list than him.

But the 23-year-old Czarnik put together an excellent training camp last fall before finishing with 20 goals and 61 points for the P-Bruins last season, and now he’s doing the exact same thing again this time around.

“Yeah, I feel more comfortable. I think we could have been a lot better in a lot of areas. Overall I think everyone is just happy to be back on the ice,” said Czarnik, who along with Frank Vatrano was one of the real starts of camp last season. “You know that type of mentality and you know mistakes are going to happen, and you’ve just got to move forward from it so everyone’s happy to be back.”

The former Miami University star is clearly happy to be back, and it’s showing on the ice with each chance he gets to show his tenacity, withering fore-check and his willingness to crash the net despite his smallish stature.

Czarnik was one of the most dangerous forwards on the ice for the Black and Gold in their preseason opener, and collected a key assist on Boston’s first goal of the game when he pushed a puck through the neutral zone before setting up on odd man rush for Jimmy Hayes and Jake DeBrusk.

This time around Czarnik scored the game’s only goal on a nifty rush during four-on-four play through the offensive zone by Ryan Spooner, who drew in the defense and dished to Czarnik for a wide open tap-in chance.

So it’s a couple of big plays in each of the first two preseason games that led to goals, and a genuinely excellent level of play throughout both contests. It’s something the Bruins coaching staff has taken note of along with his skating speed and hardnosed mentality, and now they have to figure if it fits in with their other NHL pieces.

“We were just talking about it. Everybody has that same feeling. He’s playing well. He moves well. He’s on the puck. He competes, and that’s the thing you’re looking for really,” said Bruins assistant coach Joe Sacco. “Like right now, we know there’s going to be mistakes made by a lot of our players, especially the younger ones.

“We’re looking to see who’s got that competitive, you know, that competitive fire. [We’re looking for] who’s going to go out there and who can compete at a high level. I know he’s not big in stature, but he plays bigger than he is. He’s had two pretty good games so far.”

Czarnik had a couple of good games early in B’s camp last year before flat-lining a bit at the end when the NHL jobs were seriously on the line, and the 23-year-old wants that story to change endings this time around. It remains to be seen where he’s going to fit as yet another center among Boston’s group of training camp players this month, but Czarnik might just force the Bruins to make a tough decision if he keeps playing at his current high level.   

Talking Points: Veteran Red Wings torch Bruins

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Talking Points: Veteran Red Wings torch Bruins

GOLD STAR: Take your pick: Steve Ott, Drew Miller and Luke Glendening torched the Bruins with veteran savvy and toughness against a very young defensemen unit trying to survive in the second preseason game. Ott and Glendening each scored a goal and finished with three points, and Miller finished with a goal and two points while all three forwards had a plus-3 rating for the night. All of their goals came off winning battles, crashing the net and taking advantage of defensive miscues. The goals provided a good lesson to the young kids that have a ways to go before they’re NHL ready at this point in their careers. It certainly must have been a kick to the stones to many Bruins fans when “Brave” Steve Ott was named the No. 1 Star of the game after it was all over, but that was certainly appropriate.

BLACK EYE: Adam McQuaid was the most experienced defensemen out on the ice for the Bruins on Wednesday night, and it was a rough night for him with so many young guys around him on the back end. McQuaid finished a minus-2 in 17:41 with a couple of hits and got a little better as the game was going on, but was on ice for two of the first three goals allowed to Detroit in a really lackluster middle section of the game. In general, it was about more than just one player, though. There were blown assignments in the D-zone and some really noticeable lost battles leading to scoring chances for a Red Wings group that aggressively took it to the Bruins. This is a game that will leave the Bruins coaches with plenty of video material moving forward.

TURNING POINT: The real slippage came early in the game when the Bruins failed to score on some good power play chances for Peter Mueller and Matt Beleskey, and then allowed two goals within 19 seconds of each other in the first period. The first goal was a PP one for the Red Wings with Ryan Spooner whistled for a face-off infraction, and the second was simply the Bruins falling asleep at the wheel just seconds after the first goal was scored. Lost battles led to a bang-bang play in front with Steve Ott scoring as Malcolm Subban was turned around looking for the puck, and the B’s were reeling headed into the first intermission. Only a Subban shoulder save kept it from being 3-0 at the end of the first, and that was something the B’s never seemed to rebound from.

HONORABLE MENTION: Austin Czarnik scored the B’s only goal off a nice play from Ryan Spooner driving toward the net, and continues to put together another strong training camp after doing the same thing last season. Czarnik finished with the goal, three shots on net and six shot attempts in 17:38 of ice time, and battled back from a rough start to go 6-for-12 in the face-off circle while centering an extremely young line with Sean Kuraly and Zach Senyshyn. While Czarnik might not have been a big name when talking about an open roster spot with the Bruins a couple of weeks ago, he’s pushed toward making himself a part the conversation with his heart-filled, high effort energetic performances for the Black and Gold.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4-for-16 was the final tally for Ryan Spooner in the face-off circle as he continues to be a work-in-progress on the draw.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Maybe I was a little bit shocked first going out there. The speed of the game is noticeably faster, but I think as time went on I got more comfortable out there. Hopefully I can build off that moving forward.” – Bruins rookie D-man Matt Grzelcyk on his first NHL preseason game being a bit of a big wakeup call.