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Doubts leaving Bruins’ Thomas

Goalie is getting back to old self after injury

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / October 18, 2010

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NEWARK — The Devils’ rush was arriving with the speed of a New Jersey Transit train — Patrik Elias flying down the left wing with the puck, Ilya Kovalchuk barreling into the slot with full momentum.

Tim Thomas was ready.

“First thing I was doing, I was trying to respect that shot,’’ the Bruins goalie recalled of Elias’s approach in the second period of Boston’s 4-1 win Saturday night at the Prudential Center. “I didn’t just want to give him an easy shot. When he passed it over to Kovalchuk, it was uh-oh time.’’

Thomas, leaning to his right to square off any attempt by Elias, then had to shuffle to his left once Kovalchuk took his winger’s feed. But when Kovalchuk faked forehand and pulled the puck to his backhand, Thomas had to scurry back to his right, stretch out his pad, and boot out the sniper’s bid to keep the game scoreless.

It was vintage, Vezina Trophy-winning Thomas. And who knows if he could have made the same stop last season.

After stopping a Phil Kessel breakaway on March 4, Thomas believes he turned an existing tear in his labrum into a bigger one. There was pain, discomfort, and perhaps even an alteration in technique as Thomas tried to compensate for his injury.

But now, following offseason surgery, Thomas is back to his old self.

“ ‘Come on, what’s going on here? I know I’m better than this,’ ’’ Thomas recalled thinking at times last year when he played through his injury. “Now, to not have restrictions, to be loosey-goosey, it’s great.’’

Following two consecutive starts, Thomas finds himself in a familiar position among the NHL’s goaltending elite: 2-0-0, 0.50 goals-against average, .984 save percentage. He’s allowed just one goal, a Dainius Zubrus follow-up attempt Saturday night while Thomas was down and out and getting a faceful of Zach Parise. In a first period in which his teammates still were trying to find their rhythm, Thomas kept the surging Devils from taking charge of the game by stopping all 11 shots that came his way.

Perhaps Thomas’s sharpest first-period sequence came once Matt Taormina lined up a slap shot from inside the blue line. Taormina’s shot, a changeup that sailed through traffic, floated in and out of Thomas’s sights. At the last moment, when the puck arrived, he turned it aside. Then when Jason Arnott cut through the crease and jabbed at the rebound, Thomas foiled the two-time Devil’s chance.

“There were a lot of shots from the point that I didn’t get to see clearly,’’ Thomas said. “Or I’d see it and lose it through traffic. It would hit me or get tipped at the last moment. I had a hard time controlling the rebounds because of the traffic and the tips. It made for a fun night for the scrambles for the rebounds. But the D did a really good job of clearing those rebounds.’’

Two starts may not provide an accurate or extensive snapshot of how Thomas’s season might unfold. Saturday night’s 31-save gem came against an undermanned New Jersey roster. Names such as Matt Corrente, Jacob Josefson, Alexander Urbom, and Tim Sestito may be familiar only to the most passionate of puckheads. It’s one thing to stone a lineup stuffed with B-level talent. It’s quite another to foil the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin; the Bruins have a home-and-home set against the Capitals tomorrow (Verizon Center) and Thursday (TD Garden).

But it may be that Tuukka Rask, on the bench for the last two games, could be back in the crease as early as tomorrow. Thomas is the hot goalie. But Rask, playing behind a leaky squad in the season-opening 5-2 setback against Phoenix, needs to find his rhythm.

“It’s about being fair and making our decision tougher as we go along,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “We have to consider two things: a goalie who’s played really well, and another goalie who can’t sit forever either. We’ve got lots of games. Three games in five nights [this] week. I’m sure we’ll see both of them.’’

Entering yesterday’s games, the Bruins were one of six teams to have recorded just a single power-play goal this season. Nathan Horton scored the lone man-advantage goal in the season opener. Horton is currently on the first power-play unit with David Krejci, Mark Recchi, Zdeno Chara, and Matt Hunwick. Saturday night, the second unit was Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, Blake Wheeler, Johnny Boychuk, and Dennis Seidenberg. The Bruins were 0 for 3 against the Devils . . . The players were given yesterday off. They will practice at Ristuccia Arena this morning before departing for Washington.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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