There has been no doubting Thomas this postseason
His job description requires that he exclude from his mind everything that is not directly connected to stopping a hockey puck.
“Even when I’m playing at home, I have to block out the crowd in order to play to the best of my ability, especially in the tight games,’’ said Tim Thomas.
But with five minutes left in Friday’s soul-satisfying sweep of the Flyers at the Garden, the Bruins goaltender took a moment to exhale — and inhale the euphoria around him.
“I actually took the time to try to soak in the atmosphere,’’ he acknowledged after he’d stifled the visitors yet again to escort his team to a place the Bruins haven’t been in nearly two decades: the Eastern Conference finals.
“I don’t get that opportunity very often. Things are usually so tight. I’m happy for the fans, too, that they could celebrate like they were able to.’’
His personal celebration will be deferred, Thomas said, until this most unexpected dance around the Maypole has been completed.
“I’ll take time to think about that once the season’s over,’’ he said after the 5-1 victory. “Right now I’m enjoying this victory as a team, because without the team, it would have never happened.
“Right now, I’m feeling part of a group effort, so I haven’t really thought about how personally satisfying it is, and I don’t want to let myself think about it.’’
Yet for a man who didn’t play a minute during last year’s playoffs, who had to watch the historic collapse against Philadelphia from the bench, his performance in this postseason has been one to savor. Ever since the Bruins began their resurrection in Game 3 of the opening series with the Canadiens, Thomas has been their lodestar.
“In that third period when he made those big saves to help us win in Montreal, he has just taken off from there,’’ said coach Claude Julien, who opted for rookie Tuukka Rask in last year’s playoffs.
During a revival that has produced eight victories in nine games, Thomas has posted a goals-against average (2.03) and save percentage (.937) that are second only to those of Tampa Bay’s Dwayne Roloson, who will be his opposite number this week.
“What I like about Tim right now is he is very confident,’’ observed Julien. “He seems very calm as well, not overly busy in his net. But when he is busy, it’s because he is making a big save.’’
Thomas was never busier or more brilliant than he was in Game 2 in Philadelphia, when he made 52 saves in Boston’s crucial 3-2 overtime victory that left the Flyers frustrated and dispirited.
“I had so much work that it helped me get into the zone,’’ said Thomas, whose teammates will testify that he has been in the zone since October.
“Timmy has been remarkable all year,’’ said Mark Recchi. “From the day we played the exhibition game in the Czech Republic, he stood on his head. You don’t see this very often through the stretch of the whole year, but he really hasn’t had many games where he didn’t play well. It’s been great to see.’’
While Thomas will likely win his second Vezina Trophy in three years, he already has had that experience. But winning two playoff series is a novelty for the man whose tenure is the longest on the club.
“I haven’t been part of a team that’s been this deep in the playoffs,’’ said the 37-year-old Thomas, who came here in 2002 but didn’t perform in a playoff game for five years.
“I’ve never experienced it first-hand. But I know that this is a hockey city and that the hunger is there. I probably won’t find out how big of a deal it is until after. During the playoffs, you shelter yourself from what’s going on around you.’’
Not that you can’t hear the roar of the crowd and know that you’re part of the salute.
“What’s that saying: ‘Regular season is work but playoffs are fun’? That’s true,’’ Thomas said. “It’s stressful, but it’s fun. What we’ve accomplished so far has been an incredible amount of fun.’’
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.