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Bruins notebook

Thomas saved them

Goalie came up big down stretch

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Fluto Shinzawa and Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / April 6, 2008

Last night, Tim Thomas was beaten on two of Buffalo's 27 shots against him in Boston's 3-0 loss.

Thomas, however, had made his most significant contribution a night earlier.

By scoring the first two goals of their 2-1 win over Ottawa Friday, the Bruins did their part in qualifying for the playoffs, aided by Carolina's 4-3 loss to Florida. Had Ottawa netted the first strike, it might have been a different outcome. And if not for Thomas, the Senators might have claimed a 1-0 lead in the second period.

A seemingly harmless play blew up after Andrew Alberts, who had taken a clearing pass from Shane Hnidy, lost an edge and coughed up the puck to Nick Foligno. The Ottawa forward pulled away for a point-blank shot. Thomas, however, cut down the angle.

"I wanted to get out and take away space because I thought he might turn around and shoot really quick," Thomas recalled. "But I almost fell down, so I had to regain my balance. I was trying to get into better position in case he walked in and deked. He almost had time to do that."

It was the most critical of Thomas's 17 saves, as his stop kept the game scoreless. In the days to come, Thomas will undoubtedly be asked to come up with some more big saves.

After a 4-2 loss to Montreal at TD Banknorth Garden March 20, a game in which Thomas allowed Alex Kovalev to score the opening goal on what coach Claude Julien termed a "harmless backhand," the Bruins came right back with the netminder against the Canadiens two nights later. Despite the solid play of backup Alex Auld, general manager Peter Chiarelli dubbed Thomas the No. 1 goalie, expressing confidence that he could carry the club into the postseason.

Between the March 20 setback and Friday's playoff-clinching performance, Thomas helped the Bruins claim at least a point in each of the six games he started. Thomas lost his 19th decision last night, but during the six-start run leading into the season finale, he posted a 4-0-2 record with a 1.46 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage. On Friday, when Antoine Vermette scored a third-period goal, the Ottawa center snapped Thomas's shutout streak of 180:10 against the Senators.

"Going down the stretch here, we won a lot of games to get us into the playoffs and we should be proud of ourselves," Thomas said. "Do we want to do more damage? Yes. But we should be proud of what we've accomplished so far."

Injury update

Less than 24 hours after clinching their first playoff berth in four years, the Bruins returned to work at the Garden yesterday morning in anticipation of their season-ending game against the Sabres.

According to Julien, who gave most everyone the morning off, it was a relatively sedate group that returned on the charter flight following Friday night's victory.

"There was no party at all," said Julien, whose club needed 81 games and a 41-28-5-7 record to clinch a spot. "I'm a firm believer that there is more to come and you don't want to get [satisfied] too easily."

Julien, whose last trip to the playoffs came in 2004, when his Canadiens dumped the Bruins in the first round, was not alone at the morning skate, but it was an optional workout. Among those in attendance:

Marc Savard - The club's No. 1 center, finally in the playoffs for the first time since entering the NHL in 1997-98, skated for the second time in as many days. Savard, who suffered a back injury March 22 when he was smacked by a Steve Begin cross-check, skated for only 5-6 minutes Friday, then yesterday stretched it out to about 20 minutes.

Ideally, said Savard, he will be able to suit up for Game 1.

"He seems like he's willing and wants to take it to the next step," said Julien, noting encouraging reports on Savard from the club's medical personnel. "Now, I can't tell you whether he'll be ready for the first game or not."

Patrice Bergeron - Sidelined since Oct. 27 with a Grade 3 concussion, Bergeron continues to increase his on- and off-ice workouts, and has an appointment with a neurologist tomorrow at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he hopes to be given the go-ahead for his first contact drills.

"The trend is great," said Julien. "There is reason for optimism." However, Julien cautioned the club will proceed conservatively with the 22-year-old center.

Manny Fernandez - The veteran goalie, who underwent knee surgery in December, is fit for game action, but Julien has opted to stay the course with Thomas and Auld. Thomas, the winner Friday, got the call again in the 3-0 loss to the Sabres.

"Our two goalies have played extremely well for us," said Julien. "So, it's a tough position for [Fernandez] to be in, and it's a tough position for us, too. It's good to know, if we had injuries, that Manny's been a No. 1 goalie in this league, so it's not like we can push him aside and say, 'You're done.' "

Andrew Ference - Sidelined with a wrenched knee, he worked out in the morning but was held out of the lineup against the Sabres. "We'll have him Thursday at 100 percent," said Julien, figuring Game 1 of the playoffs for that day. "I think we are in a position to have the luxury of doing that, and we chose to take that route with him."

Hardware Dept.

Several season-ending awards were handed out before the game. Thomas was the No. 1 star in the Bruins' Three Stars Award, selected by WBZ. Savard was the No. 2 star and Marco Sturm No. 3. Zdeno Chara won the John P. Bucyk Award as the player who has contributed the most to charity. Sturm won the Elizabeth Dufresne Trophy as the most outstanding player in home games . . . Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff tabbed the little-used Jocelyn Thibault to start between the pipes in place of Ryan Miller. Thibault had been involved in only eight previous decisions this season. The Sabres also welcomed defenseman Teppo Numminen back to the lineup for his first game of the season. Numminen underwent open-heart surgery Sept. 20.

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