By Danny Picard
BOSTON -- Kessel-Mania VII headlined the coming attractions before Thursday night's game between the Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs.
But it was Tim Thomas who stole the show with his second shutout of the season in Boston's 2-0 win over Phil Kessel's Leafs at the TD Garden.
Kessel finished the game with a game-high six shots on net, but had nothing to show for it. In seven games against his former team, Kessel has zero goals and only one assist, and after his minus-1 showing on Thursday night is a minus-7 against the B's in his career.
"I had some good chances tonight," said Kessel after the game. "I just couldn't bury them.
"I had chances again tonight. It's not like I didn't have chances. It just didn't go in. What can you do?"
Not much you can do with the puck on your stick and Thomas in net for the Bruins this season.
Thomas is now 5-0 with a league-leading goals-against average of 0.60. It's the best start for a Bruins goaltender since Tiny Thompson went 6-0-0 in his first six games of the 1937-38 season.
Coach Claude Julien has gone on record, several times, to say that the team doesn't have a No. 1 goalie; it has two No. 1's. But after Tuukka Rask's 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday, Thomas' 20-save performance -- which included killing off all five Toronto power plays -- in a big bounceback win for the Bruins on Thursday night, has to make Thomas the team's go-to 'tender until he begins to struggle.
Julien would never tell you that, of course. But he did have a ton of praise for the way Thomas shut down the Maple Leafs.
"Solid again," said Julien after the win. "I think we can't say enough about the way he's played. And what I liked about his game, too, is they had some shots from the point, and he did a great job of not giving up any rebounds. He kept those inside him, and I thought he did a great job at smuggling those loose pucks. He was just solid, challenging, and confident.
"I think if anything, he was as solid as can be," added Julien. "Tuukka played the game before, and you can say, well, Thomas skipped a game there, let's see how he comes out tonight. And he came out the same way he had when he played his last game. So it's great to see him do that. And again, when you've got a goaltender playing that well, it certainly gives you a great chance to win hockey games.
"In the first period, we were maybe not as good as we would have liked, but a guy like him keeps you in a game."
Thomas can't find one specific aspect of his game that's working best. But on Thursday night, his rebound prevention was as good as it's ever been.
And it needed to be that way. With Patrice Bergeron giving the Bruins a 1-0 lead with 41 seconds left in the first period, and Tyler Seguin making it 2-0 with 7:34 in the second, one measly Toronto goal could have changed the game.
It's these types of games in which shutouts are needed for the win. And that's exactly what Thomas gave the B's on Thursday.
"I feel good, it's fun to play," said Thomas. "The reality is, we had a 2-0 lead, I couldn't afford to give Toronto a goal, because I didn't want to let them think they're back in the game.
"It was easier to focus on the shutout tonight, because it was necessary for the win, I think.
"I feel, obviously, that I'm playing good," added Thomas. "The team's playing very well in front of me. They're really helping me out with rebounds, screens, blocking them out of screens. I mean, Dennis Seidenberg had as many saves as I did tonight. So that's making it very helpful."
And for Kessel-Mania?
"As far as Phil Kessel goes, we're not thinking about that," said Thomas. "We're thinking about the two points, and we needed the win. We needed to bounce back, especially after a loss, so we're not thinking of individuals like that. At least, I'm not."
Kessel probably can't say the same about Thomas.
Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard