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Christopher L. Gasper

Goaltender played role of leading man

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By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / May 3, 2011

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PHILADELPHIA — The record will show that it was David Krejci who won the game for the Bruins with a whistler of one-timer at 14:00 of overtime. But anyone who watched Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last night knows that’s a half-truth of the highest order. The real game-winner for the Bruins wasn’t in the back of the Flyers net. He was in front of their own.

Tiny Tim? Forget it. Tim Thomas came up huge between the pipes for the Bruins last night at Wells Fargo Center, as the Bruins pulled out a 3-2 overtime victory to take a 2-0 lead in the series. It’s fitting that the Flyers’ arena is named after a bank because Thomas (52 saves) pulled off a heist worthy of “The Town’’ for the Spoked-Bs.

“Timmy stole the game for us tonight,’’ said defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. “We gave them too many odd-man rushes and breakaways, but Timmy was really good tonight.’’

The takeaway from last night’s game is that Thomas is a good enough goalie to lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup finals. It’s up to the rest of the team to rise to his level. He’s not just a regular-season-only model. He’s built for the tough terrain of the postseason. End of discussion.

That was not such a confident conclusion to make early in the playoffs against Montreal, when Thomas, who set an NHL record for save percentage this season (.938), was serving up rebounds on a silver platter and allowing goals that were on the softer side of playoff life. That seems like eons ago.

The Bruins are 4-0 in overtime games this postseason, which says as much about their goaltender as it does about their resolve.

It’s incredible to think the Bruins were trying to peddle the 37-year-old Thomas in the offseason and found no takers. Yeah, I know, he was coming off hip surgery and a down season and had a $5 million price tag. But you don’t think there are some Cup contenders out there kicking themselves for not bringing Thomas aboard?

After two games, it’s obvious that he is the single biggest advantage the Bruins have over the Flyers in this series, and you wonder if he were healthy last year whether the Bruins’ epic collapse against Philadelphia ever would have taken place.

Last night, the Bruins were outplayed and outskated by a Flyers team desperate to even the series, and to make matters worse the Bruins were gassed in the third period and overtime because they’d lost defenseman Adam McQuaid in the first period. McQuaid lost his balance trying to check Flyers forward Mike Richards and tumbled head-first into the end boards. That left them with just five blue liners.

Enter Thomas, who after allowing two goals in the first 9:31 of the game, didn’t allow a shot to get past him the rest of the way, making 32 saves in the third period and overtime.

With 6:58 gone in the third period, Philadelphia held a 10-1 lead in shots in the period. Among Thomas’s stops was stoning Danny Briere, the leading goal-scorer in the playoffs entering last night, on a break-in. Philadelphia poured 22 shots on Thomas in the third after having 22 shots total in the first two periods. Thomas was in the zone and the puck was out of the net.

“The game started out and they got a couple of quick goals, and a couple of funny bounces too,’’ said Thomas. “I think [Claude] Giroux was trying to shoot that on the two-on-one that they scored the first goal on. So, as the game went on I was just trying to work hard to build to get myself into the game. By the time the third period rolled around I was starting to feel really good. Fortunately, I was good at the right time because they got some shots and some opportunities and kept me busy for the third period.’’

It didn’t look like this was going to be a night in which Thomas, or anyone else in Black and Gold, was going to be lauded for playoff heroism. James Van Riemsdyk scored just 29 seconds in. He tallied a power-play goal at 9:31 of the first, and it looked like it was going to be one of those nights in which Thomas and the Bruins would be crushed.

Then a funny thing happened. Instead of a blowout, a tight, taut hockey game broke out.

The Bruins weathered the emotional storm and fought back, tying the score, 2-2, with a pair of goals just 1:25 apart.

Just like that the Flyers’ fast start became a hockey dead heat. And that’s how it stayed until Krejci sent the Bruins home with a 2-0 series lead. Saint Thomas did have a little divine intervention to aid his cause. He caught a break with mere seconds remaining when after he deflected a van Riemsdyk shot off a faceoff, Briere whiffed on the puck with an open net and Thomas prone on the ice.

“I saw the rebound go to Danny Briere’s feet and in that 100th of a second I thought it might be over because he’s one of those guys that gets them,’’ said Thomas.

But that was it. That was Philly’s golden chance. Thomas was on his game, and it was game over.

“Tonight was special; he was incredible,’’ said defenseman Andrew Ference. “That third period on was a clinic. I don’t even know what to say anymore. He is just unbelievable.’’

Thomas is a Stanley Cup finals-caliber goalie. Believe that.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com and can be read at www.boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.

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