THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Hoping stop is a start

Shootout result buoys Thomas

By Jason Mastrodonato
Globe Correspondent / March 18, 2012
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The fans, 17,565 of them, were on their feet, cheering and clapping. But the Bruins bench was still while Saturday’s game against the Flyers - one coach Claude Julien said the Bruins needed to win - lay in the hands of a goaltender who had a 5.70 goals-against average over his last four games.

Tim Thomas crouched into position, still trying to decide which type of goalie he wanted to be, as Flyers forward Danny Briere skated toward him in the game’s final shootout attempt.

Earlier in the game, Thomas had turned away Jaromir Jagr on a breakaway by displaying his patient side - not jumping at any of Jagr’s moves and forcing the veteran to fire a weak wrister.

However, in two attempts during the shootout, the Flyers had used Thomas’s patience against him, scoring on a pair of shots before ever making a deke.

But against Briere, Thomas changed it up. He attacked Briere, skating out to the first hash mark in an attempt to confuse the shooter. Briere couldn’t convert and the Bruins earned a 3-2 win.

This was the Tim Thomas the Bruins were hoping to see. The Flyers, of course, felt otherwise.

“He’s a different goalie,’’ said Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia’s leading scorer with 33 goals, who was held scoreless on a game-high six shots. “On the same shot, he’ll do two or three different moves if you’re coming down the wing. He’ll go down on the butterfly or poke check or whatever.

“He played great. And that’s what you want from your No. 1 goalie.’’

The way things had been going for Thomas lately, though, his standout play Saturday may have come as a welcome surprise to some.

Even Thomas, who is always quick to show confidence, refused to visualize himself making the deciding save beforehand. Usually before a shootout, he zones out everything else and tries to imagine what it will feel like to come out on top.

“Today, I started to do that and then I was like, ‘No, I’m not going to let myself. I’m just going to stay calm. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself,’ ’’ he said. “Then I thought, ‘When you win, you might not even be excited.’

“But I was wrong. When I made that save, it was exciting. We needed those 2 points and we needed to leave the arena with a good feeling after the game.

“And sometimes when you lose in a shootout, you can end up feeling worse than you should.’’

The Bruins certainly don’t need their starting goalie feeling any worse than he has lately. After Thomas went 16-6-0 with a 1.94 goals-against average from October through December, he had gone 13-12-0 with a 2.97 GAA leading up to Saturday’s game.

And with Tuukka Rask sidelined 4-6 weeks with a lower abdomen/groin strain (he hasn’t played since March 3), the goaltending load has fallen to the 37-year-old Thomas.

He said he can’t trust the bounces right now, and when the Flyers were unloading a barrage of shots in the final minute of regulation, he “just didn’t want bad luck to strike again.’’

But Thomas played well enough that luck wasn’t a factor.

“When he’s going, we’re going,’’ said center Chris Kelly. “I think Timmy made some huge saves, and without him, obviously, the outcome is a bit different.’’

Thomas proved he can be a difference-maker during last year’s Stanley Cup run, and he is hoping Saturday’s solid effort will springboard him onto another hot streak.

“Hopefully it carries over,’’ he said, talking not just about his own play, but that of the entire team. “We’ll see. It should.’’

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