THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

It was a good scrap, but a loss

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / April 15, 2012
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Bruins fans loved it when Tim Thomas shoved Washington center Nicklas Backstrom in the third period of Saturday’s game. Backstrom kept digging near the crease after Thomas covered a shot, and the Capitals forward absorbed two gloves to the face from the Bruins’ combative netminder.

It was mildly reminiscent of a moment in Game 3 against the Canucks last spring in the Final when Thomas coldcocked Vancouver superstar Henrik Sedin.

Unfortunately for Thomas and the Bruins, Backstrom had his revenge when he scored the winning goal (wrist shot, stick side) nearly three minutes into the second overtime to give the Capitals a series-squaring 2-1 victory over the Bruins.

“Today, I had the last laugh,’’ said Backstrom.

Proving once again that seeding means little in hockey, the seventh-seeded Capitals are giving the Bruins fits thus far in this first-round series. The Bruins took the first game, 1-0, in overtime, and scored only once in four-plus periods Saturday.

Thomas, thankfully, has picked up right where he left off when he carried the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup championship in 39 years last spring. The goalie was MVP of just about everything in 2011 and is playing just as well in the first two games of these playoffs. It would help if the Bruins could score a couple of goals.

Thomas let in his first goal of the series when he couldn’t cover a loose puck that was tapped home by Washington right winger Troy Brouwer at 17:57 of the second period. Going back to last spring, it was the first goal he’d allowed in more than 161 minutes of playoff hockey.

“Pucks like that, normally you put the paddle of your stick behind it and cover it,’’ said Thomas. “But then I realized I couldn’t without jamming Zans [teammate Greg Zanon] in the face. And then the other thing was, you don’t like to cover it with the stick underneath, because you can’t trap it all the way.’’

When Benoit Pouliot tied the game with 7:47 left in the third, Bruins fans assumed the locals would take a 2-0 series lead to Washington. The Garden rocked when Thomas flattened Backstrom with 2:26 left in regulation.

“I was trying to put the puck in the net,’’ Backstrom explained. “The puck was loose there. He maybe thought I was hitting his pads for no reason. I don’t know. It happens. It’s the playoffs.’’

In the spirit of playoff hockey and overtime hockey, the officials for the most part swallowed their whistles and let the Bruins and Capitals skate and hit with abandon. Washington coach Dale Hunter chose not to comment when asked if Thomas could have been slapped with a penalty on the Backstrom shove.

Ultimately, the Bruins didn’t put enough pressure on Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, who is doing a nice impersonation of Ken Dryden circa 1971. And the Bruins were caught flat-footed when the Capitals hustled after losing a faceoff in the third minute of the second OT.

“I just had time to yell, ‘Screen!’ and then I think I picked it up about halfway to me,’’ Thomas said. “But it was one of those knuckle [shots]. You can’t read on exactly where it’s going. I didn’t see it enough.’’

“We know Tim Thomas is a special goaltender,’’ said Hunter. “If he sees it, he’ll get it, so you have to get bodies in front of him.’’

Bruins coach Claude Julien on the Backstrom goal: “We won the draw, but they outmuscled us. We lost that battle and lost the game.’’

“This is better than starting off 0-2 [against Montreal] like we did last year,’’ said Thomas.

The goalie was not asked about shoving Backstrom, but when the Bruins hosted a town meeting at the Garden in September, he was asked about his hit on Sedin, and said, “It felt goooooood.’’

The patented Thomas punch is an act of defiance on a par with Harrison Ford’s presidential moment in “Air Force One’’ when the fictional chief executive punches a terrorist into the sky and says, “Get off my plane!’’

Whoops. My bad. We’re not supposed to mention politics around the Bruins goalie - not since he snubbed President Obama when the Stanley Cup champs visited the White House in January.

Thomas has ruled the topic off-limits since explaining himself in a series of Fox News-worthy Facebook posts. But now he has to go to Washington for Game 3 at the Verizon Center Monday night.

How great would it be if the First Fan gets a ticket and sets himself up behind the Bruins goal - like one of those annoying Green Guys from Vancouver?

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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