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Thomas saves thoughts of record for later date

Tim Thomas skates off the ice after breaking the NHL record for save percentage following the Bruins’ win over Ottawa. Tim Thomas skates off the ice after breaking the NHL record for save percentage following the Bruins’ win over Ottawa. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / April 10, 2011

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When professional athletes are asked about milestones, they often deflect the questions, saying they’ll think about all of that when their careers are over.

But yesterday, Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas allowed himself a modicum of enjoyment for a monumental achievement. The veteran finished yesterday’s 3-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden with a NHL-record .9382 save percentage, the best mark since the league began including it in its statistics package in 1982-83.

Dominik Hasek owned the record at .9366, set in 1998-99. Coach Claude Julien plans to install Tuukka Rask in the team’s regular-season finale against the Devils in New Jersey this afternoon, so barring anything unforeseen, Thomas will finish the 2010-11 campaign at the top of the list.

“I’ll reflect on it once the season is really over a little bit more than I am right now,’’ said Thomas, who finished with 31 saves against the Senators.

The situation wasn’t lost on Rask, who snagged the puck for Thomas at the end of the game.

“That was awesome, I didn’t even think about it,’’ said Thomas. “It was a great gesture by Tuukka.’’

One of the biggest challenges of the afternoon for Thomas came midway through the third period when Ottawa right wing Erik Condra had two bids, the second of which was dangerous.

“I was very relieved when I found out [the puck] was actually still there between my legs,’’ said Thomas with a broad smile. “Obviously, it’s down to the wire.’’

Thomas improved to 35-11-9 but said his lofty statistics — particularly save percentage — aren’t just about him.

“That number is a testament to the team in front of me and the way they have battled for me all year long, defensemen and forwards,’’ he said. “That also reflects probably one of the best, if not the best defensemen in the world [in Zdeno Chara], out there in front of me, that I think should be getting a little bit more Norris [Trophy] talk than at least I’ve heard. But he’s been stellar for us all year, playing against the top players on every team night in and night out and just doing a great job. So, that number is a team number.’’

On the other hand, Thomas believes save percentage is a fair way to evaluate a goalie’s season.

“I think it’s the most reflective overall, although it’s still probably not a perfect number because a lot of it depends on quality of shots, obviously,’’ he said. “But overall, it’s probably the best individual stat for a goalie.’’

Now that Thomas has had his final tuneup before the postseason, he can set his sights on Boston’s playoff plan. But yesterday he took a little time to discuss the goalie whose record he overtook.

“I certainly watched [Hasek] when I was in college and was trying to pick things up off of him,’’ said Thomas, who was a standout at the University of Vermont. “I didn’t try to emulate my style after him. I still have my own style, but I did see some of things that he does that I thought I could apply to my game and probably over the years it became part of my game, too.

“Dominik Hasek was a hero of mine back when I was in college, a guy who played unconventional and had a ton of success. Even at college age, I was already labeled as somebody with my style that I couldn’t do it at the next level. So, you know, he was an inspiration.’’

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.

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