Thomas gets help, gives nothing
Maybe he didn’t get to relax, or let his guard down, or allow his mind to wander during timeouts to some warm Caribbean isle, but Tim Thomas finally got to breathe a little last night, which is something he’s rarely been able to do this season.
“Our defense - our team defense - has been playing really well the last 6-7 games,’’ said Thomas following his 27-save effort last night that backed the Bruins to a 3-0 shutout of the Penguins at the Garden. “Now we’re getting the offensive production to get the wins, too.’’
Until Patrice Bergeron fired in a long-range bouncing puck for an empty-netter with four seconds to go, Thomas worked with a fairly thin lead, but a lead nonetheless.
Matt Hunwick lifted home the first goal with 1:36 gone in the second period. Daniel Paille, sent in on a breakaway with an artful tape-to-tape feed through the neutral zone by Mark Recchi, boosted it to 2-0 with 3:34 gone in the third.
That may not sound like an embarrassment of offensive riches, but for Thomas, now 5-6-1 after his Vezina-winning season of 2008-09, it’s an excess nearly worthy of Overstock.com. Consider his three starts prior to last night:
■ Nov. 1 at Madison Square Garden, a 1-0 loss to the Rangers. He stopped 22 of 23 shots.
■ Nov. 3 at Joe Louis Arena, a 2-0 loss to the Red Wings. He turned back 24 of 26 shots.
■ Nov. 5 at the Garden, a 2-1 shootout loss to the Canadiens. He blocked 25 of 26 shots over 65 minutes.
That’s 185 minutes between the pipes, 4 goals allowed (1.30 goals against average) and 71 of a possible 75 saves (.947 percentage).
For all that superlative work, Thomas tacked three losses (one in the shootout) to his 2009-10 résumé.
After a run like that, working with a 1-0 lead was a comfort. A 2-0 lead was a luxury. The Bergeron shot, about a 150-footer, had Thomas lighting up the Causeway rink with a smile that beamed out through his mask.
He faced only two shots in the first period (a sure sign that the Penguins had key personnel on the sideline), then snuffed out 25 over the final two periods when the Penguins outshot the Bruins, 25-19. For the night, they took 60 shots to Boston’s 44, but 22 of them were blocked (four by Derek Morris) and another 11 were off target.
The shot that caused Thomas the most concern didn’t officially land on net. But it did hit the post, with Thomas nowhere near the net, after an Alex Goligoski dump-in on the left side caught a mullion along the glass and ricocheted toward the net. Anticipating the dump-in, Thomas moved out of his cage to his right, figuring he would trap the rimming puck in the trapezoid behind his net.
“You see it happening,’’ mused Thomas, reflecting on the quirky bounce, which by his count has happened in each of the last three home games, “and it’s a helpless feeling. There’s nothing you can do to stop it.’’
Scurrying back to his crease, Thomas looked toward the slot to assess what else wicked his way came. The wicked was worse than expected.
“All I saw was white [sweaters],’’ he said.
First and foremost, he saw an onrushing Pittsburgh forward, Michael Rupp. If Rupp potted it, the Boston lead would have been down to 2-1 with 5:45 left. But Thomas reached in with his paddle and swept the puck out of his crease, the 6-foot-5-inch Rupp left to feast on an empty plate.
“I got a piece of it and got it out of the way,’’ said Thomas. “No harm, no foul.’’
Still some angst, though. The play went under review, on-ice officials wondering whether Goligoski’s attempt actually slipped inside the base of the right post before it ricocheted out.
“I started to doubt myself,’’ said a man who has good reason to be a doubting Thomas of late. “At first I figured it was out, but then . . . I began to wonder. Then I took the attitude if it was in, it was in, and if it wasn’t, it wasn’t.’’
It wasn’t. The non-shot on net was a non-goal on the scoreboard.
Thomas’s last bit of angst came with 20.4 seconds to go when Shawn Thornton was caught for cross-checking in the defensive zone. With goalie Marc-Andre Fleury pulled for an extra attacker, the Bruins had to play two men short with the faceoff in the circle to Thomas’s left.
Coach Claude Julien scribbled out the coverage during a timeout - Dennis Wideman, Steve Begin, Zdeno Chara, and Bergeron on the kill - and ultimately Bergeron was left to wing home the long-range show-stopper.
“He deserved it,’’ said a relieved Thomas. “We deserved one of those.’’
More to the point, or 2 points, Thomas deserved one of those.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.