Refreshed Thomas, Bruins douse the Flames
CALGARY, Alberta — In his three previous starts, something funny happened to Tim Thomas. The goalie on the fast track to the Vezina Trophy looked like an average netminder.
On Feb. 9, Thomas gave up six goals to Montreal in an 8-6 win. On Feb. 13, Detroit put four pucks past Thomas. Last Tuesday, Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel each tucked a pair of pucks behind Thomas in Toronto’s 4-2 win.
Last night, all was back to normal.
Thomas turned aside 28 Calgary shots to backstop the Bruins to a 3-1 win before 19,289 at Scotiabank Saddledome. Milan Lucic scored two goals, including a last-minute empty-netter, and Brad Marchand netted his 19th strike.
Thomas’s path to recovery started last week. Tuukka Rask started against the Islanders on Thursday and made 34 saves in a 6-3 win. The following night against Ottawa, the Bruins could have given Thomas the nod, given how he has owned the Senators recently. But with the aim of resting Thomas and getting Rask back on track, coach Claude Julien went back with the Finnish netminder on consecutive nights. Rask responded with a 32-save 4-2 win, while the 36-year-old Thomas got the rest he needed.
“My legs definitely felt fresher than they had in a little while,’’ Thomas said. “I think that decision paid off for both of us.’’
Thomas faced the heaviest challenge in the first period, when the goal-hungry Flames threw pucks and people at the net. Thomas battled through Calgary’s traffic and turned aside all 13 first-period pucks that came his way.
At the other end, Lucic scored a first-minute goal to give his club some early momentum. The play started when Mark Giordano flipped a puck out of the defensive zone, which prompted the Flames to make a line change. But Adam McQuaid, paired with Zdeno Chara to start the game, gloved the puck at the red line, dropped it to his blade, and smoothly shuttled it forward to David Krejci at the offensive blue line.
Suddenly, the Flames had to scramble to complete their line change. Lucic, seeing Krejci settle McQuaid’s pass, sprinted over the blue line and roared toward the net. None of those things could have happened had McQuaid not made such a quick glove-and-pass play.
“We’ve practiced that the last couple practices,’’ Lucic said. “The forwards get back and giving the D-men an option where they can make a quick pass like that. It was a great heads-up play by McQuaid. We kind of caught them on a line change there. It was a good way to get the game started.’’
Krejci faked a shot, which opened up Miikka Kiprusoff. With the Calgary goalie biting on Krejci’s fake, the center slid a cross-crease dish to Lucic. The left wing had little trouble tapping in Krejci’s feed at 0:59 for the game’s opening goal.
“That definitely helped a lot,’’ Thomas said of Lucic’s goal. “It gives us confidence. When we’re starting out and playing with a lead, you can play a little different game. It helps you relax.’’
It would be the No. 1 line’s only even-strength goal. But it was a complete effort by Lucic, Krejci, and Nathan Horton — the kind they submitted regularly at the start of the season, but failed to produce in the last two months. Because of how unreliable they had become, the offensive chore often fell to Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Mark Recchi. The No. 2 line responded and picked up their teammates, but with games getting tighter down the stretch, the Bruins needed their top guns to find their rhythm again.
Lucic put four pucks on goal. Krejci also recorded four shots. Horton put two pucks on Kiprusoff. The three forwards played a heavy, hard-to-play-against game with pace and purpose.
“We’re skating better,’’ Lucic said. “Our game kind of fell off there in January. We weren’t making smart plays. We were coughing up pucks. We weren’t moving like we usually do. These last couple games, we feel like we’re skating again. We’re strong on the puck. We’re winning battles. If we want to be an effective line, that’s exactly what we have to do.’’
At 5:55 of the third period, Marchand doubled his team’s lead. After Andrew Ference’s point shot hit traffic in front, the puck caromed to Marchand at the right circle. He caught Kiprusoff out of position and swept the rebound into the net to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
After Bergeron was whistled for slashing at 16:56, the Flames fought back with a power-play goal. Jarome Iginla backhanded a cross-crease pass to Curtis Glencross, who slammed the puck past Thomas at 17:27.
But the Bruins sealed the win with an empty-net goal. Recchi dug the puck off the wall in the defensive zone and cleared it to Krejci. In turn, Krejci floated the puck toward the empty net. Lucic, being a good teammate, waited to see if the puck had enough legs to roll in. But when the puck slowed, Lucic chased it down and buried the empty-netter for his team-leading 26th goal.
“I was actually trying to let it go in,’’ Lucic said. “I didn’t touch it until I saw it wasn’t going in. I was trying to let it go in.’’
In the end, nobody really cared who got credit for the goal. They were just happy that the puck went in.