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Bruins Notebook

Thomas still a showstopper

But slow starts remain troubling

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / December 6, 2010

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Tim Thomas couldn’t do it all alone Saturday night, although there were times in Toronto when it looked as if the Bruins’ wily goalie was left to fend for himself at Air Canada Centre. For a club that values defensive effort and, above all, responsibility, the Bruins too often were slipshod with their puck management and tepid with their effort in one-on-one battles.

End result: 40 shots against Thomas across 65 minutes and a 3-2 shootout victory for the Maple Leafs.

“We didn’t play well,’’ said coach Claude Julien, who watched his club fritter away leads of 1-0 and 2-1, the Leafs sending it into overtime with Kris Versteeg’s power-play goal with 42 seconds remaining in regulation. “Simple as that.’’

More complex to figure, though, is how Julien’s charges overcome their trend of maddeningly slow starts they’ve fashioned in recent weeks. They opened in slow-mo again in Toronto, where they were outshot, 12-5, in the first period. Had it not been for Thomas’s now customary acrobatics and heroics, they would have been looking at a one- or two-goal deficit after 20 minutes, but instead went into the first break in a 1-1 deadlock.

Amid the slow starts, which have contributed to a familiar struggle to score goals (tossing out the aberration of an 8-1 tattooing of the Lightning), Julien really hasn’t had any choice but to keep putting Thomas between the pipes. That trend is not likely to change soon.

Thomas probably will start again when the Sabres visit the Garden tomorrow night and Tuukka Rask, who soon may be signed to a lucrative Maytag sponsorship as the loneliest guy in town, may get Thursday’s start with the cupcake Islanders in town. Rask (1-6-1) has started only two of the last seven games, allowing a total of seven goals and losing both times. Thomas no doubt will be back on the case Saturday night with the Flyers on Causeway Street.

Despite getting tagged with the OT loss in Toronto, with ex-Bruin Phil Kessel beating him with the shootout winner, Thomas as of yesterday morning was the league leader in save percentage (.956) and goals-against average (1.46). Roughly one-third of the way into the 2010-11 season, he is making a bid to land his second Vezina Trophy in three seasons. If so, it’s a good bet he will have done it with a heavier workload than the 54 games he played when winning it in 2008-09.

Thomas, who some had penciled in as Rask’s backup this season, already has played in 18 of the club’s 25 games, and a similar pace the rest of the way would have him finish with 59 appearances.

Consider: as of yesterday morning, the Bruins were slotted No. 7 in the Eastern Conference standings, in peril of slipping in among the also-rans. Arguably, the play of Thomas thus far is the single greatest reason the club hasn’t fallen down there among the pack of playoff DNQs.

His best work Saturday came in overtime, when Francois Beauchemin trailed into the slot, dropped to a knee, and lined up the sure winner into an open net. But as the Leafs’ defenseman let it rip, Thomas sprung back across the crease from the left post and stabbed the puck, Ozzie Smith-like.

“I didn’t have time to get my whole body over there,’’ said Thomas. “I was diving and I was able to pick up the puck and follow it all the way into my glove.’’

Back to work Following a late-night flight home out of Toronto, the Bruins had the day off yesterday, but they’ll be back at work late this morning at their Wilmington practice facility . . . Julien noted Saturday, the second game in a row that rookie Jordan Caron sat in order to make room for Marc Savard, that Caron will have to get playing time — be it with the varsity of the Providence WannaBs (AHL). All of which could make this a critical week for Caron. If Julien doesn’t want to use him in any of these next three games, general manager Peter Chiarelli might move the kid to Providence, not only to get him games, but also to get his $1.1 million cap figure off the books . . . Marco “The Untraded’’ Sturm will be back on the ice, still a member of the club, at least until Chiarelli can find a new home for the rehabbing winger. Los Angeles could be interested again, provided Sturm is closer to playing than it now believes. But keep an eye on the Hurricanes as a possible trade partner with the Kings. Old friend Sergei Samsonov could be on the move . . . Bob Tindall, who for years headed up Boston’s draft, attended Saturday’s practice and game and spent some time chatting with Bobby Orr . . . Southern Ontario has a very active wine industry, but it was still a surprise to see the highway sign that read, “No. 99 Wayne Gretzky Estates’’ as your faithful puck chronicler drove from Toronto to Buffalo yesterday to catch a flight home. Wonder if some of those NHL defensemen that the Great One made a living turning inside out are now some of his best customers.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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