TORONTO - His leaguewide reputation may say otherwise, but Tim Thomas has calmed down his game. Thomas, widely known as an unorthodox goalie, has evolved into a more efficient butterfly puckstopper who pulls out the crazy stuff only when necessary.
Last night, when the buzzing Maple Leafs threw puck after puck at the Boston net - not to mention bodies crashing the crease at all times - Thomas had to revert to the acrobatics.
Thomas, featuring the sprawl jobs and whirling dervishes that have made his style a one-of-a-kind mystery, stopped 27 of 29 shots to backstop tired teammates to a 3-2 win over Toronto before 19,410 at the
"The puck was bouncing around in my feet a lot," said Thomas. "Their second goal was because of a bouncing puck. It was that kind of a night. Lot of rushes for both teams because the puck bounced on them, then the other team got it back and tried to get it going, then they gave it right back."
At this point, whether he drops into the traditional butterfly or his snowflake, every-save-is-different style, Thomas has performed every action asked of him by his coaches and teammates. And last night, as the hard-working Leafs made life tough on a defense sorely missing Andrew Ference, the Bruins asked Thomas to do that much more.
So Thomas responded. He showed some quick pads by kicking out successive fast-moving shots by Carlo Colaiacovo and Ian White in the first period. He flopped on his back and batted out a shot by Alexei Ponikarovsky in the second period.
When Stephane Yelle and David Krejci were in the box for roughing penalties, Thomas helped prevent the Leafs from scoring during a 21-second two-man advantage.
Then in the final minute, after Aaron Ward was sent off for cross-checking at 19:33 to give the Leafs a six-on-four advantage, Thomas bricked up his net when overtime seemed like a foregone conclusion.
"I can't say enough about the guy," said coach Claude Julien, who sensed some mental fatigue from his team after it took a two-goal lead. "Since Day 1, he's been great. Our other goaltender has done the job.
"One of the reasons you win hockey games is when your goaltenders are good. We've got two of them right now that are doing a great job."
Under first-year coach Ron Wilson, the Leafs have assumed an identity similar to that of the 2007-08 Bruins: a lunchpail bunch that drives to the dirty areas and hunts for garbage goals. Early in the game, after the Leafs drove to the net and got bodies in front, Thomas knew he would have to work harder than usual to track down pucks.
"The first period, there were a couple that I lost," Thomas said. "I realized that I'd really have to bear down to fight through that kind of traffic. But again, my D did a good job of blocking the ones I didn't see."
Thomas's heroics wrapped up a 2-point decision for the Bruins that they might not have deserved. In the first period, after taking a clever indirect pass off the right-side wall from Marc Savard, Phil Kessel got off a wrist shot eluded Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala.
Later in the first, Matt Hunwick, playing on the second pairing with Dennis Wideman, hopped over the boards, took a pass from Milan Lucic, and whipped a shot that Toskala stopped. But Hunwick collected his own rebound and batted a backhander into the net at 13:18 for his first career goal. Lucic fished the puck out of the net and flipped it to equipment manager Mark Dumas.
After winger Jason Blake cut Boston's lead in half at 17:51, Michael Ryder busted a seven-game goal-scoring drought when he dangled around defenseman Pavel Kubina and roofed a shot over Toskala at 14:11 of the second period.
"At some point, you certainly feel a bit of pressure," Julien said of Ryder. "You want to score goals. He's had opportunities. It's not been for a lack of opportunities. Tonight was obviously the winning goal and the type of goal we've seen Michael Ryder score many times."
But Toronto forward Mikhail Grabovski kicked off the comeback with his ninth goal of the season. On the play, linemate Niklas Hagman hurtled through the neutral zone and attacked Hunwick, who was forced to hook the forward in an attempt to slow him down. But moments after the delayed penalty call, Grabovski tapped a goal-mouth shot past Thomas at 8:53 of the third.
From that point, the Bruins had to hang on to claim their 11th win of the year.
"At different points of the season, you're going to have to win different ways," said Thomas. "Could we have played better? Definitely. Are we happy to get the 2 points? Definitely."