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Thomas a real crowd-pleaser

He’s happy with win, reception

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / February 1, 2012
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Nobody will claim a period of All-Star Game action is the remedy for rust. But for Tim Thomas, 20 minutes of action - and the win, of course - in Sunday’s glorified game of shinny in Ottawa might have been for the best when the real thing took place last night at TD Garden.

“That All-Star Game helped,’’ Thomas said after last night’s 4-3 win over the Senators. “Tuukka [Rask] had the whole break off. I at least played in the All-Star Game. I’m closer to game-ready than him, I’d say. That wasn’t an issue, getting back into the rhythm of the game.’’

Last night, Thomas was the victim of a rough start.

While Thomas wasn’t sparkling early, his teammates were even worse.

“We were really, really, really rusty,’’ Zdeno Chara said. “The first 40 minutes, we were not playing like we are capable of.’’

But like the rest of the team, Thomas was his best when it counted - in the third period.

Through 40 minutes, the Senators rained 26 pucks on Thomas. Three of them had gone in. But in the third, while his teammates carried the pace of the play, Thomas saw only seven shots come his way. He turned back all seven. Thomas now has 22 wins vs. Ottawa against only eight losses.

“Necessity, recently,’’ answered Thomas (30 saves) when asked why the Bruins have been so good in the third. “We’re a good team. You know that. We might not always do it for all three periods, which is what we did for a good portion there in November and December. But if you haven’t had a real good period in a game yet, you’ll probably have it in the third. Right when we need it.’’

Yesterday was an important start for Thomas. It was the first since his Jan. 23 decision not to attend the team ceremony at the White House. Thomas rested in the pre-break finale against Washington last Tuesday. But with the Senators in town, a team Thomas has owned, it was his turn to get the nod.

“He hadn’t played since Philadelphia,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “The whole time we were in Ottawa, they never had to practice. The only thing was the skills competition, which he did very little in. In the game, he played one period. I certainly had a chat with him. He was ready to get back into action. No issues there as far as putting him in net tonight.’’

As expected, Thomas’s home fans treated him well.

“I was happy to hear the reception from the fans,’’ Thomas said. “It was just good to hear. I wanted to get them a win real bad. When we got down there in the second, I didn’t know if we’d be able to pull it off. But we found a way to win.’’

Thomas remains the No. 1 starter. He is the team’s most important player and the key to any postseason success the Bruins wish to have.

But Thomas is a mirror of how his team is playing in front of him. When they are heavy on the puck, skating well, and applying pressure on opponents, Thomas is at his best. When the Bruins are out of synch and sloppy, as they were for 40 minutes last night, even Thomas looks human.

In the first period, Thomas allowed a big rebound off Filip Kuba’s point shot.

“It kind of skipped and bounced over my stick,’’ Thomas said. “That’s why the rebound went where it did. If it would have hit my stick, I had it angled out toward where it was out of play.’’

The booming rebound landed on Milan Michalek’s stick. In turn, Colin Greening was in place to collect Michalek’s dish and beat Thomas at 18:40 of the first, tying the game at 1-1.

At 7:43 of the second, the Senators pulled ahead. After taking a cross-ice pass from Daniel Alfredsson, Kyle Turris snapped a shot under Thomas’s right armpit. Less than seven minutes later, the Senators claimed a 3-1 lead. On a two-on-one rush, Chris Neil found Erik Karlsson at the left circle. Karlsson disguised his release and snapped an off-wing wrister into the net at 13:28.

That was the third and last puck that eluded Thomas.

For the rest of the night, Thomas enjoyed the benefits of his teammates’ jacked-up play. No longer was he under siege from the hard-skating Senators. On Ottawa’s best scoring chance of the third, an in-tight snapper by Turris, Thomas stood tall and punched out the center’s bid with a quick flash of his blocker.

“They came out hard,’’ Thomas said. “It seemed to me they really wanted to prove a point and to get a win. They’ve been snakebitten against us. They looked like they threw everything at us that they could to try and turn it around. We ended up on top again, one way or another.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.

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