Bruins make it nine in a row
MONTREAL - With a snap of his glove, Tim Thomas picked a long-distance Tomas Plekanec shot out of the air to freeze play at 0:51 of last night’s third period.
It looked like a routine save. Far from it, really.
The Canadiens were on the power play, down by only one goal. They had multiple bodies in front, ready for tips or rebounds. Thomas had to spot Plekanec’s release, track the puck through traffic, and make sure he caught the puck clean.
The Bruins goalie made the play look easy. That was his intent.
“There were a few through screens that I made look easier than they probably were,’’ Thomas said after last night’s 1-0 win before 21,273 at the Bell Centre, the Bruins’ ninth straight. “Fortunately, that was the impression I was trying to give off to Montreal to make them feel like they were not coming close to scoring. It worked out. A couple of the saves ended up in my glove and it was a quick whistle. Sometimes they bounce out and it gets all scrambly. It gets the other team hungry because they think they’re getting close to scoring. That didn’t happen.’’
The Bruins didn’t have much going last night. Their power line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton, matched against Montreal’s second and third defensive pairings, totaled only three shots. The Bruins didn’t have the dominating puck-possession game they had rolling in Saturday night’s 6-0 thumping of the Islanders. They drew only one penalty on the Canadiens.
But as the Vezina and Conn Smythe hardware in his trophy case prove, Thomas can make a team look far better than it is. Saturday night, Thomas had a cream puff of a shutout against the spiraling Islanders. Last night, he turned back 33 shots, most of which were far more dangerous than the lollipops he saw in his previous shutout.
“We’ve played some better games,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “But what you like about it is you find a way to win. Defensively, we weren’t that bad. Tim was huge for us. He made some big saves. You take the win for what it is.’’
When Thomas is on, it’s not just that he’s sharp. He’s intimidating.
With each save, Thomas proved to the Canadiens time and again that he wasn’t going to be beaten. He was bursting off his line and challenging shots. Amid flurries, Thomas stood tall and went into battlefly mode - the nickname for his unique style - when situations called for his athleticism.
Six times, Thomas turned back Erik Cole. Thomas’s best stop on Cole came at 7:00 of the third period. When Cole redirected a puck on goal, Thomas stayed with the power forward and smothered the shot with his chest. Thomas also foiled Mike Cammalleri (five shots) and Plekanec (four).
Of all his skills, one of Thomas’s most understated abilities is his hockey sense.
“I’m seeing the play well and reading what the other teams’ options are,’’ Thomas said. “Sometimes as a goalie, you get stuck in a puck focus. When a guy makes a pass, you’re on your heels and you can’t move to get to the pass. Right now, I’ve just got a good feeling that I’m in position for the shot. I can take the shot. But my feet aren’t locked in, so I can move.’’
Thomas’s counterpart was anything but busy. Carey Price saw only 18 pucks. With his blue line battered by injuries, Montreal coach Jacques Martin sent out his No. 1 defensive pairing of Josh Gorges and P.K. Subban against Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Tyler Seguin. Marchand didn’t have a shot. Bergeron landed only one. Seguin had three.
“I felt we played a little bit on our heels tonight,’’ Julien said. “We weren’t very good along the walls. They were the better team. That’s usually our strength.’’
Teams don’t record nine-game winning streaks without opportunistic scoring. That’s what happened last night in the first period.
After Chris Kelly got the puck to Rich Peverley deep in the offensive zone, the right wing considered his options. Peverley didn’t have a good angle on Price. But Andrew Ference made the proper read to join the play.
“Just trying to find a pocket as an extra attacker,’’ Ference said. “As soon as I came up, I’m just trying to get it back across. Works once in a while.’’
As soon as Peverley hit Ference with a cross-ice pass, the defenseman fired a riser on goal that sailed over Price’s glove at 15:41 for the game’s only goal. It was Ference’s second goal in two games. He scored in the third period against the Islanders Saturday night.
After that, the Bruins leaned on Thomas. In his last shutout, Thomas had far more breathing room. The Bruins poured three first-period goals into the New York net, then added three more strikes in the third.
Last night, the Bruins couldn’t get close to generating anything resembling offensive pressure on Price. It’s in such games that they turn to the game’s best goalie.
“After the second period, [assistant] Doug Houda was saying, ‘This is what’s fun. This is what’s fun.’ It’s more fun when we have a four-goal lead going into the third period,’’ Thomas said with a smile. “You’ve got to learn how to win in a whole bunch of different ways.’’