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Thomas saves his best for now

Goalie duel tends to stay one-sided

By Nicole Auerbach
Globe Correspondent / June 14, 2011

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After a war of words that occupied most of the weekend, Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo settled in their respective nets at the start of Game 6.

The spotlight was on Luongo for all the wrong reasons following his comments criticizing Thomas’s goaltending in Game 5, and the 12 goals Luongo allowed in the Garden during Games 3 and 4. But after Luongo exited after allowing three goals in the game’s first 8 minutes 35 seconds, Thomas owned center stage.

Thomas made 36 saves and gave up two third-period goals in the Bruins’ 5-2 victory that sent the series back to Vancouver for Game 7 tomorrow.

Thomas’s dominant performance stood in stark contrast to Luongo’s uneven showing.

While Luongo has given up 15 goals in three Garden appearances and but two goals in three home games, Thomas has been the model of consistency. Thomas has given up eight goals in six games, keeping his team in low-scoring affairs in Vancouver and shutting down the Canucks in Boston.

“He’s been in the zone for the whole playoffs, and you can barely count on one hand how many bad goals he’s given up in this whole playoffs,’’ Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “That speaks volumes for him. He’s come in and decided just to focus on his play and nothing else.’’

The four-goal burst in the first period gave Thomas a cushion to work with, if he needed it.

He didn’t.

“I didn’t want to relax because I didn’t want to give them any confidence, let them feel like they were going to get back into the game,’’ Thomas said.

Thomas has played an integral role, keeping his team tied or maintaining a lead for much of the series.

“What Timmy’s done for us all year has been remarkable,’’ Bruins winger Mark Recchi said.

No matter the outcome of Game 7, Thomas is considered the favorite to take home the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the player most valuable to his team throughout the playoffs. It’s hard to argue that any player has done more than Thomas with the season on the line.

The Bruins have played three elimination games this postseason. Against the Canadiens in the first round, Thomas had 34 saves in a 4-3 overtime victory. Against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, he shut out the Lightning with 24 saves in a 1-0 thriller.

Last night, he didn’t need perfection to give the Bruins what they needed. In addition to his 36 saves, Thomas received two scares as shots clanged off the post, including one early in the third period that the officials reviewed to make sure it hadn’t gone in.

Thomas lost the shutout 22 seconds into the third period on a power-play goal by Henrik Sedin. The Canucks scored again with less than three minutes left to make it 5-2.

Arguably Thomas’s most important save of the night came in the final minute of the first period when he stopped Jannik Hansen on a breakaway. Instead of allowing the Canucks to snatch momentum heading into the second period, Thomas delivered a sprawling stop. Momentum retained.

When asked, Thomas said this recent stretch of dominance was probably the best he’s had in his career. He briefly compared his current playoff run with his experience in Finland in the late 1990s, ultimately concluding that this was more impressive because the NHL has more talented players.

“He’s been outstanding for us and we all know the teams that normally win the Stanley Cup usually have unbelievable goaltending,’’ Julien said. “We feel like we’ve got that.’’

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