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Thomas savors the moment

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By Barbara Matson
Globe Correspondent / May 28, 2011

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In the final minutes of the last night’s Eastern Conference finale, with the Bruins closing in on a 1-0 victory and a series triumph over the Lightning, goaltender Tim Thomas stood in the goal in a characteristic pose, his left arm resting on the crossbar, his eyes focused on the play at the other end of the ice.

It’s been a long and winding 15-year road for the 37-year-old from Flint, Mich., through four years at the University of Vermont, through a couple of minor league stints, over to Finland, back to Boston, a Vezina Trophy-winning season followed by a return to the bench, and then back to the ice for this year’s superb season. He was not going to rush the moment.

But as the last seconds of the game ticked off the clock, Thomas slid forward a few feet, slid back, then threw his arms up in the air as the buzzer sounded, joining the TD Garden celebration that had been in full-throated roar for several minutes. Next up: the Stanley Cup finals against the Vancouver Canucks.

“I didn’t let myself emotionally get excited until about two seconds left,’’ Thomas said, “because then there was no way, when [Dennis] Seidenberg finally blocked Vinny [Lecavalier’s] last shot from the other end of the ice.’’

Then Thomas let the happiness wash over him.

“It feels incredible, unbelievable,’’ said Thomas. “We found a way to do it — again. I’m sure everybody else’s blood pressure is up; ours was, too, but we’ve just got such great character on this team, we got it done.’’

Thomas shared bear hugs with his captains, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, and his friend and backup Tuukka Rask, and then the rest of the team. And then he took off his facemask and looked up into the stands and gave a wave, hoping to send a message to his 10-year-old daughter. She’s the oldest of three and the only one allowed to attend the game because of the 8 p.m. start.

Thomas joined the end of the line to shake hands with the Tampa Bay players, skating up next to Nathan Horton to share a grin and a quick word with the game’s lone goal scorer.

“We had a little talk earlier today,’’ said Thomas, “and I said something about ‘do it again tonight, I know you’re going to,’ and then I said, ‘let’s do it together,’ and sure enough, look who came up big — he’s a big-money player, there’s no doubt about it.’’

Thomas was quick to pay homage to Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson, who had the lion’s share of the shots, making 37 saves, and only giving up the winner on a precise passing play from David Krejci to Horton at 12:27 of the third period.

With 24 saves, Thomas got his second shutout of this year’s playoff and third in his career. He tipped his new Eastern Conference champions cap to his defense, who kept the Bolts at bay.

“We had control of the puck so much,’’ Thomas said. “We dominated the game. Dwayne Roloson played really, really well.

“A lot of those times when the goalie stands on his head like that, the other team comes down and scores, so it’s my job to try to stay ready so that didn’t happen. But having said that, we did a great job defensively and didn’t give up as good scoring chances as we had in a lot of the games earlier this series.’’

Thomas has been working his way to a Stanley Cup finals for 15 years, but the only time he got emotional last night was talking about his former Vermont teammate, the Lightning’s Martin St. Louis. He had special words for St. Louis when they shook hands.

“I told him he’s a warrior and that ‘I love you, man,’ ’’ Thomas said, smiling and starting to choke up at the same time. “But it’s the truth. He gives so much. We wouldn’t have been in Game 7 if he didn’t give that effort he gave in Game 6. He’s just an incredible competitor.’’

Thomas didn’t think his team had played a perfect game but he knew it was something special.

“That was as close to as perfect a Game 7 as you’re going to get,’’ he said. “Out of the seven games in this series, that was the most complete game that we’ve played.’’

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