By Danny Picard
WILMINGTON -- When the Bruins defeated the Buffalo Sabres in the first round of last year's Stanley Cup playoffs, it was Tuukka Rask who led the way in goal.
Just over six months later, Tim Thomas is Boston's go-to netminder. He's 6-0 with a 0.50 goals-against average and, after his third shutout of the season on Saturday night in Ottawa, earned the NHL's second star for the month of October.
Coach Claude Julien, as usual, hasn't tipped anyone off about his starting goaltender of choice on Wednesday night in Buffalo -- Boston's first rematch with the Sabres since last April's playoff series. But with three days off in between games, and the next set of games (after Buffalo) being back-to-back on Friday in Washington and Saturday night at the TD Garden against the St. Louis Blues, and with the B's already riding the hot goalie, it would seem to make sense to start Thomas on Wednesday in Buffalo and again on Saturday at home, with Rask getting the call on Friday.
Thomas has been getting a lot of attention because of his hot start this season, and it continued on Tuesday with the NHL naming him their second star of the month.
Dealing with all the attention isn't new to Thomas, a guy who usually does a good job of thinking before he speaks.
"I've dealt with it before, and you know, it's something that's sort of the price of doing well," said Thomas about the positive attention he's receiving in the early season. "Realistically, you do have to make sure you keep your head on straight, because when you're talking all the time, some things that come out of your mouth is too much. I prefer to think a little while longer before I talk about everything.
"But in these kind of forums," he said while untying his skates after practice, and the media huddled around his locker, "you have to answer before sometimes you really have the time to think that answer through."
Fortunately, for Thomas, all that positive attention didn't lead to negative questions on Tuesday. That's also the result, or price -- as he put it -- of doing well.
When the Bruins faced the Sabres in last year's playoffs, Buffalo was the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and the first-place team in the Northeast Division. Boston was the No. 6 seed in the East and the third-place team in the Northeast. The Bruins won that series in six games.
Now, the tables have been turned. It's the B's who are ahead of the Sabres in the standings, and instead of Ryan Miller being the hottest goalie in hockey, Thomas holds that honor through the first month of the NHL season.
The Bruins' coach reminisced, on Tuesday, about what the team learned in that playoff series.
"I don't think it was an easy series by any means," said Julien before the team left for Buffalo. "We always have some tough games against them. There's a certain style that they play, and ours makes it, for the most part, pretty close games. And it's gone back and forth.
"They've got a great goaltender, and when they're healthy, they're a team that, on the attack, is very dangerous. They really collapse and smother you in their defensive zone. So it's never an easy game against them."
Julien also talked about the possibility of instituting a "coaching challenge" in the NHL, similar to that in the NFL.
The Bruins' coach said he's keeping an open mind to the possibility of it, and pointed out a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets last January, in which Milan Lucic was called for a double-minor for high sticking a player with less than two minutes remaining in the third period, and the Blue Jackets scored on the power play to win the game.
Replays showed that the high stick wasn't Lucic's. It was a Blue Jackets player who hit his own teammate.
"I think before I give my approval on that, I'd certainly have to look at what it's all about," said Julien. "Certainly, you need structure when it comes to that. You can't keep challenging every play you think should be challenged. There's got to be some sort of filter."
Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard