Thomas shows Bruins the way back

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Thomas shows Bruins the way back

Tim Thomas needed a change after getting going through one of the worst stretches of his NHL career in March.

In truth the Bruins needed plenty of changes headed into Saturday afternoons tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers, and chief among them was Thomas turning his game around. The 37-year-old was playing in his 12th straight game while attempting to snap his teams four game losing streak, so the chances for an energetic performance between the pipes seemed remote.

The 4.06 goals against average and .846 save percentage in his first nine appearances in the month of March were difficult to comprehend when placed next to Thomas name and normally pristine statistics.

But Thomas performances against the Flyers have always been good throughout his career, and the goalie opted to change out his pads and stick after hitting rock-bottom giving up six goals against the Florida Panthers earlier in the week. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner said there were concrete reasons behind changing out his equipment rather than simple superstition, but whatever the reason it worked in a 3-2 shootout win over the Flyers at TD Garden.

I think the win was very important, we needed that immensely. We needed to show up and have a good game at home. Things havent been going our way. Thats a polite way of saying it lately, said Thomas. To battle out tonight and come up with a good, solid strong game at home and pull out with two points, is hopefully very big for us moving down the road.

Claude Julien was reluctant to single out anyone in a solid team victory for the Bruins, but he did acknowledge that his All-Star goaltender finally appears to be on the right track.

Tim was no different than everybody else. He really did a great job. I thought he was tracking the puck well, he was making the saves he had to, and like I said, both goals were tip-ins, so certainly not his fault, said Julien. To a man, today, we were better. We did a better job in front of him, which allowed him to be better, and like I said, he made the save when he had to, to win us the game against the guy whos pretty good, normally, in the shootout. So, right now, we have to look at the positive and work like that.

Thomas had been arguably the NHLs worst goaltender during the month of March, but he turned it around for one day with 27 saves against the Flyers in an encouraging sign that hes turning the corner. While the Bruins scored a couple of goals early in the game to really seize control of the momentum, the victory was much more about a stouter defensive performance and a revitalized goaltender.

Recently Thomas had struggled to lock things down when it was time to make the key save in the game, but it was back to vintage Conn Smythe Thomas against the Flyers. With the Bruins sitting on a 1-0 lead early in the first period and the hockey club still in a very fragile place, it was Thomas that shrugged away a Jaromir Jagr breakaway chance when the Czech Republic living legend had just jumped out of the penalty box. The stop was a momentum-turning stop and the Bruins followed up with Tyler Seguins 25th goal of the season to give Boston a lead they needed every bit of as the game unfolded.

I am not trusting the bounces right now. Thats natural I think, said Thomas. But the breakaway save on Jagr, it did help to boost my confidence more than it already was.

The only shots to beat Thomas Saturday afternoon were a pair of tipped pucks from Philadelphia attackers pacing the price in front of the net, and neither score could be blamed on the goaltender. But he was again on top of his game at the end of the third period when the Flyers launched 12 shots on net in a furious attempt to land two points in regulation, and Thomas was able to turn away a Claude Giroux bid in the final seconds prior to overtime.

Best of all was Thomas adjustment in the shootout that allowed him to improve to 6-0 this season. He played deeper in his net while being beaten by Claude Giroux and Matt Read during the first two shooters in the extra session, and then changed on the fly for Daniel Briere.

Thomas jumped way out of the crease to challenge Briere, threw off his momentum and secured the two points when he made the only stop of the shootout. Thats the kind of gambling adjustment Thomas can make when the old confidence is flowing through his body, and it appears that its coming back.

My plan going into the shootout was to go out and play the other guys like Jagr on the breakaway. But that didnt work, but it was great to see our guys keep going in, said Thomas. After the second one, I kind of changed up what I do and I came way out to Danny Briere, I think I went all the way out to the hash marks to try and give him a different look and try to make him think what the heck hes doing.

This wasnt the Thomas questioning himself and what was going on around him that had no answers following the teams fourth straight loss to Florida. Instead this was a Thomas that had figured a few things out and now has a plan of attack with different equipment and a composite stick. The Bruins have 11 games remaining on their schedule and Thomas is likely to play nearly all of them with Boston in the middle of a battle to retain their No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference.

The prospect looks a lot brighter for Thomas coming off a winning performance against Flyers thats given everybody on the roster a moment to breathe. Perhaps thats all goaltender and team needed to get things cranking again in the right direction.

Celtics can't complete comeback, fall to Bucks, 103-100

Celtics can't complete comeback, fall to Bucks, 103-100

BOSTON – Wednesday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks wasn’t the first time during their impressive run at home that the Boston Celtics found themselves playing from behind most of the game.

But as hard as the Celtics fought, putting together one mini-run after another, it just wasn’t enough to knock off the red-hot Milwaukee Bucks who came away with a 103-100 win. 

The Celtics (48-27) had their four-game winning streak snapped while the Bucks (39-36) have now won 13 of their last 16 games as they continue to climb the Eastern Conference standings and pose a legit threat to any team they face in the first round of the playoffs. 

Boston, which trailed by as many as 14 points, rallied to tie the game at 93 in the fourth, but back-to-back baskets by Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon put the Bucks ahead 97-93. The Celtics soon found themselves back to within one possession after Jae Crowder split a pair of free throws making it a 99-96 game. 

But the Bucks did as they had done all game, responding to the moment with a big play of their own. This time it was Brogdon finding Greg Monroe under the rim after Al Horford slipped, for an easy dunk that made it a 101-96 game with 1:06 to play. 

A Celtics' time-out led to an Isaiah Thomas lay-up, making it a 101-97 game. Boston’s defense stiffened up, forcing a 24-second violation which led to a 20-second time-out by Boston with 36.9 seconds to play. The Celtics got another quick basket from Thomas who led all scorers with 32 points. 

Boston seemed on the verge of forcing a Milwaukee miss, only for Brogdon to step up with a clutch, tightly contested jumper that made it a 3-point game with 3.9 seconds to play. He finished with 16 points, nine assists and four rebounds.

Following a Celtics time-out, desperate for a 3-pointer to force overtime, Boston’s in-bounds pass was deflected. Marcus Smart was able to corral it before time expired, but his desperation was nowhere close to hitting the rim let alone going in. 

This game had the feel of a down-to-the-wire battle from the outset.

The Celtics were tied at 24-all after the first quarter, and trailed by six points at the half. Boston had good stretches in the third quarter, but once again found themselves trying to cut into Milwaukee’s lead which stood at 80-77 going into the fourth. But like each of the three previous quarters, the Celtics saw the window to close the gap slammed shut in their face as the Bucks opened the fourth with an 8-3 run to lead 88-80.

Boston’s uphill battle was fueled in part by a Milwaukee Bucks defense that didn’t give the Celtics many good looks at the rim. And offensively, Milwaukee’s ball movement was solid all game, generating lots of good looks at the rim. 

Despite all that, the Celtics were down just 90-87 following a 3-point play by Tyler Zeller. Boston had a chance to tie the game, only for Terry Rozier’s 3-pointer to hit the back of the rim and roll out. Bucks coach Jason Kidd knew he had to do something to slow the growing momentum by Boston, leading to him calling a time-out with 5:35 to play with it being a one-possession game. 

Boston continued to fight its way back into the game, and were within two (93-91) after Marcus Smart made the second of two free throws. 

He wasn’t done. 

Smart, who had his second double-double of the season with 11 points and a career high-tying 11 rebounds, scored on a driving lay-up to knot the game at 93-all with 2:46 to play. From there, the Celtics could not make the necessary plays to get the victory. 

Bruins still in waiting mode on Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Anders Bjork

Bruins still in waiting mode on Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Anders Bjork

BRIGHTON, Mass – While the NHL debut for Charlie McAvoy is a matter of “when” rather than “if” at this point after agreeing to an Amateur Tryout Contract (ATO) with the Boston Bruins, the jury is still out on Boston University center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and University of Notre Dame winger Anders Bjork become pros. 

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney says that Forsbacka-Karlsson has yet to make a “final decision” on his status for next season after BU’s elimination from the NCAA hockey tournament, and Bjork is readying for the Frozen Four this weekend along with the rest of his Fighting Irish teammates. The 20-year-old Forsbacka-Karlsson just wrapped up his sophomore season with the Terriers and posted 14 goals and 33 points in 38 games with a plus-11 rating, and has not given the Bruins any firm word on his plans for the immediate future. 

The urgency perhaps isn’t there for the Bruins to lock things up with Forsbacka-Karlsson right this second, because he wouldn’t be a factor for this year’s NHL team. 

Meanwhile the Bruins can’t do anything with the 20-year-old Bjork until at least the end of next weekend, but have been mightily impressed with a player that’s posted 21 goals and 52 points in 38 games for Notre Dame this season. Bjork had three assists in the game that propelled Notre Dame into the Frozen Four, and there would be a great deal of urgency for the Bruins to lock up a talented forward that might be able to help them right now. 

“I’ve been able to see [Bjork] a few times including the regional [in New Hampshire] last weekend, and he was outstanding. He played every other shift, he set up goals in the game and he’s had a really nice progression as a college player this season,” said Sweeney of the explosive Notre Dame junior, who was far and away the best player at B's development camp last summer. “They’ve done a fabulous job with their team, and hopefully they get to the Finals on Saturday against Harvard, and we get the best of both worlds seeing how our prospects play in the final game. He’s had a tremendous college career to this point, and we’re excited about his development.”

McAvoy is the front-burner issue for the Bruins at this point, but it would surprise exactly nobody if both Forsbacka-Karlsson and Bjork join him in Providence in the next couple of weeks as they wrap up their AHL season.