Thomas’s workload increases in a flash

By Jason Mastrodonato
Globe Correspondent / March 4, 2012
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Forget about all the off-ice issues surrounding Tim Thomas.

The only thing that should matter when it comes to the Bruins goaltender over the coming weeks - or months, depending on the seriousness of Tuukka Rask’s injury - will be his performance on the ice.

“[Rask] is becoming a good goaltender for us,’’ coach Claude Julien said after yesterday’s 3-2 loss to the Islanders, in which Rask was removed following a frightening injury when he made a sudden jerk trying to make a save.

Rask left the ice at 9:01 of the second period without putting any weight on his left skate.

“And,’’ continued Julien, as if reminding everyone that there’s a Vezina Trophy winner on the roster, “we know the other guy has proven himself over the years.’’

Right now, though, Boston is struggling to find momentum. Injuries have forced Andrew Ference, Daniel Paille, and Rask to join Nathan Horton as observers for today’s game against the Rangers in New York. And the Bruins haven’t won two in a row since mid-January, a span of 21 games.

“We’re looking for answers,’’ said defenseman Dennis Seidenberg.

Thomas could be one of them.

Over the next 35 days, the Bruins have 19 games, including 15 remaining in March. Just once during the upcoming stretch (March 21-22) do the Bruins have two days off. If Rask is out for an extended period, Thomas likely will carry most of the load.

But Thomas, who turns 38 in April, hasn’t started more than 12 games in a month since 2007, when he was 32 and in his third season in the NHL.

“For Timmy, it’s going to be tough,’’ said Seidenberg. “He’s going to be playing more. But I’m sure he’ll be ready for it. He loves challenges, so I’m sure he’s going to come out on top of this one.’’

The encouraging part is that Thomas continued to excel with additional playing time last season. From Nov. 15 through Dec. 30, a span of 47 days, Thomas made 17 starts and allowed just 33 goals, a goals-against average of 1.94.

But losing Rask for games also means losing him for practices, eliminating the strong two-goalie system that has forced the Bruins offense to stretch its comfort zone and become more creative.

“Going up against them in practice, it’s good for us,’’ said Milan Lucic. “It’s difficult to score on both of them. And it’s definitely good to have that competition between them.’’

The competition may well be gone.

“That’s been the strength of the goaltending,’’ said Julien. “They’re both good and they both know it. They want to push each other.

“And Tuukka is a goaltender that wants to become the No. 1 down the road, and his goal is to try to prove that.’’

Rask has posted the second-best GAA (2.05) in the Eastern Conference.

And if Thomas has an off-day against the Rangers, Julien won’t have Rask to take the load off in Tuesday’s game in Toronto. Rask isn’t making the road trip.

“I’m not pointing fingers at anyone,’’ said Lucic. “It’s a group effort, but everyone has to step up a little bit more, do a little bit more, and try to fill that void.’’

Thomas can play only one position. Among the Bruins’ struggles of late, goaltending is far down the list.

But if Thomas can handle the increased workload and continue to be among the league’s most effective goaltenders, he’ll at least give his team a chance to regain momentum before the the playoffs.

First up for Thomas: the league-leading Rangers. And in his eyes, nothing has changed. At least for now.

“I’m going to look at it like any other game,’’ he said. “Show up and try to do my job.’’

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