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Bruins’ Thomas had clear view

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / March 26, 2011

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Tim Thomas said he had an inkling. Or maybe it was a premonition.

“To be honest with you, earlier I had a . . . ,’’ Thomas said, pausing, perhaps because the Bruins goaltender didn’t want to sound like some kind of a Puckstradamus about Thursday night’s 7-0 rout of the Canadiens at TD Garden.

“We were due for a game like that,’’ he said. “We were due for a solid game where we were doing the right things and it paid off. So I can’t say I know the future, but it could have very well ended up a 2-1 game.’’

But, Thomas said, “I did have a little feeling earlier.’’

Trusting his intuition, and his skills, the reason it didn’t end up a 2-1 game was because Thomas, who entered the game as the NHL’s leader in goals-against average (2.06) and save percentage (.937), never let it come to that. Thomas made 24 saves in recording his career-high eighth shutout of the season, 25th of his career, and first against the Canadiens in their last regular-season visit.

“I didn’t realize it was my first [against Montreal],’’ said Thomas, who improved to 31-10-8 this season. “Having said that, it’s the 25th of my career, and it’s a memorable one. I’ve been on the other end of the spectrum over the years, playing against Montreal. It’s a nice victory I’ll remember forever.’’

While the Bruins pumped in seven goals against Carey Price, who was pulled after giving up five, and Alex Auld, whose two allowed included an unassisted three-on-five tally by Gregory Campbell, Thomas built an impenetrable fortress in the Bruins’ net.

“I think he’s picking up his game,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We gave him a little bit of rest and you could see at one point he really needed it. And I think the last two games he’s been pretty solid.’’

Following a two-game hiatus, a refreshed Thomas returned March 19, only to absorb a 5-2 loss at Toronto. After a career-best eight-game winning streak to start the season, which included three shutouts, it seems Thomas is back on track with back-to-back victories over the Devils Tuesday night and the Canadiens.

“The team played really well in front of me the last two games,’’ Thomas said, lauding the play of his defensemen, in particular Dennis Seidenberg, who blocked three shots Thursday night and made a marvelous backdoor stick save in the second that helped the Bruins maintain a 3-0 lead.

“[They] kept the chances to a minimum and allowed me to see the shots and keep them to the outside,’’ Thomas said. “That made my job a lot easier in the last two games, so it’s allowing me to build some confidence and start to feel comfortable. I never felt bad, like I was off track, but . . . success breeds success.’’

With each goal the Bruins tallied against Montreal, and each shot Thomas turned away, the separation between these Original Six rivals grew.

“With the type of lead we had, he may not have had to be good,’’ Julien said. “But he was good. And when he was tested, and they had some good opportunities, he came up with big saves.’’

Thomas reserved his biggest, it seemed, for Montreal’s two-man advantage in the third period. In one sequence, Thomas made a terrific stop on Mike Cammalleri’s point-blank blast from the slot, and then shifted immediately to his right to turn away Brian Gionta’s backdoor bid on the rebound.

“It’s a memorable one, not so much because I had that much work; I did have to do some,’’ Thomas said. “[There was] never really too much pins and needles after a while because we took the lead and we never gave it up and never got on our heels.’’

And that’s not the position the Bruins want to be in with nine regular-season games remaining, including today’s Garden matinee against the Rangers. Clearly, a rested Thomas is better than a rusty one, which is why Julien is likely to give Tuukka Rask some time in net before focusing Thomas for the playoffs.

“We’re playing every second day and I don’t think it’s wise at this stage to use the same goaltender,’’ Julien said. “But at the same time, I think it’s important that he gets in a rhythm there. But Tuukka has to be there as well. Tuukka’s been playing well lately and you never know what can happen down the road. You have to make sure both goaltenders are ready to go as well.’’

According to Nielsen, Thursday night’s game earned a 6.6 household rating on NESN, the highest for a regular-season game in the 27 years the network has aired Bruins games.

NESN’s previous regular-season record was a 6.2 rating March 18, 2010, when the Bruins hosted the Penguins in the teams’ first meeting since Matt Cooke’s hit left Marc Savard with a severe concussion.

Tickets for the first three home playoff games will go on sale Wednesday at 11 a.m. They can be purchased at the TD Garden box office, at www.bostonbruins.com, or by calling Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000.

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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