Thomas gets back into stopper role

Goalie was at home in defensive showdown

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By Matt Porter
Globe Correspondent / May 20, 2011

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TAMPA — The narrative of Game 3 is the Bruins getting back to what made them successful. Were Tim Thomas not as good as he was, it would have been a much different story.

A returning Patrice Bergeron was his usual self and Boston’s defensemen handled the puck with care. They took an early lead and topped it off with a third-period goal. Lanes were filled, sticks were tied up, layers of backchecking pressure were applied.

And back in net, Thomas authored a masterpiece, turning back all 31 Tampa Bay shots to help the Bruins take a 2-1 series lead.

It was Thomas’s second career playoff shutout. The first was a 19-save effort against Carolina in Game 5 of the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals. This one, coming on the heels of a 6-5 win in Game 2, was a cold shower for anyone thinking the Bruins would stray too far from what had brought them seven — now six — wins away from the ultimate prize.

“I was able to play more under control tonight, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that we played the way that I’m used to,’’ Thomas said. “So I felt comfortable in a game like that.’’

Spotted a goal by David Krejci just 69 seconds in, Thomas handled most of Tampa’s chances with ease. Once he broke a sweat, he was even sharper.

Five minutes after Krejci’s goal, Teddy Purcell carried into the zone against a backpedaling Zdeno Chara, with Vincent Lecavalier lurking to the left. Thomas put a pad on Purcell’s slapper from above the circle, and needed to spin back into position to deny Lecavalier’s follow-up chance from 20 feet.

“They came in pretty fast, and I was moving when the first shot came,’’ Thomas said. “I made the save, but as I was doing it my momentum carried me toward the corner. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lecavalier was going to get the rebound. So that’s when I did the spin-o-rama. I spun around, got to the center of the net, and was fortunate enough to get a leg on it.’’

Dennis Seidenberg blocked Martin St. Louis’s follow-up chance, one of 14 blocks made by the Bruins. (Tomas Kaberle led the team with three.)

“Offensively, I don’t feel that we paid the price,’’ St. Louis said. “We just needed to make his job a little tougher, and we just didn’t do that tonight.’’

The Bruins held the Lightning to six shots in the second period. In search of the tying goal, Tampa put 15 shots on net in the third, mostly from the outside. The Lightning didn’t crash the crease enough to disrupt Thomas. With their netminder so squarely in the zone, the Bruins’ defense let him see the puck and gobble it up.

“We knew that this game was going to be like this,’’ Steven Stamkos said. “These are the games that we usually play well in, one-goal games, we usually win them. Give them credit, they played good defensively and Thomas played good when he had to.’’

Midway through the third, Thomas stood up to trap Marc-Andre Bergeron’s straightaway slapper, and kicked away a Sean Bergenheim turnaround chance.

“We didn’t challenge him enough, in front of him,’’ St. Louis added. “As the game goes on, he feels better about himself and gains confidence that he carries through the rest of the game.’’

For a team that allowed five goals in a wide-open Game 2, this was a piece of factory-produced machinery, straight from Claude Julien’s assembly line.

“It felt more normal,’’ defenseman Andrew Ference. “Our team finds that comfort zone of just making plays.’’

“He’ll give credit to the people in front of him. And I think it’s very deserving, because our team did play well in front of him,’’ Julien said of Thomas. “But when they had some great opportunities he was also there to make the big saves. So, I think it’s really tonight one of those games where you want to spread the credit around.’’

Thomas had done that moments before.

“I’m kind of a product of the way the game goes in front of me,’’ he said.

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