It was up for grabs, to say the least. Someone had to strap on the pads and impress Bruins coach Claude Julien enough to be named the team’s starting goaltender for consecutive games.
Heading into last week’s three-game road trip in western Canada, neither Tim Thomas nor Manny Fernandez had shown enough brilliance to get the call for back-to-back regular-season battles. But after a 1-0 shutout on Oct. 27 in Edmonton, Thomas made it known that last year’s All-Star season was no fluke.
Thomas (4-2-2) has made four straight starts in goal for the Bruins, heading into Thursday’s game at home against Toronto. In those four starts, Thomas went 3-1 with a 0.99 goals-against average and a .970 save percentage. He followed his Edmonton shutout (27 saves) with another 1-0 decision over Vancouver (31 saves) the very next night, making him the first Boston goaltender to post consecutive shutouts since Byron Dafoe did it in April 1999. He also became only the second goalie in NHL history to record consecutive 1-0 decisions (after Florida’s Craig Anderson, in March 2008).
His only loss of the week came last Thursday against Calgary, a 3-2 defeat in which he made 35 saves. Thomas finished the four-game stretch allowing only one goal on 36 shots in a 5-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Saturday at the TD Banknorth Garden. He came into the week leading the NHL in save percentage (.944) and ranking second in the league in goals-against average (1.83).
“I feel pretty good,” said Thomas, who was named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week on Monday. “I felt really good in the last two periods against Edmonton, and I felt really good the whole Vancouver game. I didn’t feel bad [in Calgary]. I just didn’t get the same results as I did in Edmonton or Vancouver.”
“We really take pride in playing well defensively, and Timmy has been a big part of that,” said Zdeno Chara. “He’s playing really well for us right now, and we know that we have to play from the defensive end first.
“We have a trust in both of our goalies,” added the captain. “When one of the goalies is on a roll, you’re going to play him, and Timmy’s been outstanding for us.”
The Bruins went into Saturday’s game with the worst penalty kill in the NHL (71.1 percent), then allowed Dallas no power-play goals while playing shorthanded six times (9:16). As Julien has said in the past, a good penalty kill starts with solid goaltending.
“We killed a lot of penalties in the second period and did a great job at it,” said center Marc Savard. “You’ve got to give Timmy credit. He’s been incredible through this stretch.”
Finding his touch
Perhaps overlooked in Saturday's fight night at the Garden was the rejuvenated play of left winger Marco Sturm. Sturm didn't drop the gloves or receive any of the 146 total minutes of penalty time (18 penalties to each team), but he did break out of a seven-game scoring drought dating to the fourth game of the season against Ottawa on Oct. 18.
Sturm entered Saturday's game against Dallas with only five points (one goal, four assists) in 11 games and was demoted to the third line, playing the wing with center David Krejci and rookie Blake Wheeler.
"He needs to get involved more," said Julien prior to Saturday's game. "When he"s determined and when he's involved, he wins races, he wins battles. And when he's determined, he can play a physical game. That's the thing that right now, he has to improve, his whole involvement. Once he gets that figured out, the goals will follow."
Julien's message was loud and clear, and Sturm responded with the first goal of the game just 2:41 in, slapping home a one-timer from the top left circle after receiving a nice feed from Wheeler. Sturm scored his second goal of the game with 5:43 left to play in the third period, after wingers Michael Ryder and P.J. Axelsson set him up with an easy one-timer on the goal line.
"He needed to react, and not just react, but find his game," said Julien. "I thought he played better [Saturday]. He was in the right spots, and I thought he was a better player."
Said forward Milan Lucic, “I told him before the game on the bench, ‘This is your night. It’s about time, let’s go.’ You could see it in his eyes that he was pumped up. Once he got that first one, we knew he was going to get rolling.”
Danny Picard covers the Bruins for OT and can be reached at email@example.com
This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports