Commentary

Tim Thomas is really feeling it

Bruins goalie gives team just what it needed -- his fifth shutout

Updated: December 2, 2010, 8:49 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

PHILADELPHIA -- When goaltender Tim Thomas receives a roughing penalty, it's a good sign for the Boston Bruins.

In fact, Thomas was so focused on the task at hand against the Flyers on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, he said he "blacked out" and didn't realize he slapped Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell to receive a penalty.

That means Thomas was completely focused on his job. As he's been all season, he was fired up, and there was no way he was going to allow the opponent beat him. Thomas completely frustrated the Flyers en route to a 3-0 win and his league-leading fifth shutout of the season. He made 41 saves and is 12-2-1 this season.

[+] EnlargeTim Thomas
AP Photo/Matt SlocumTim Thomas, who won the Vezina Trophy two seasons ago, says he hasn't felt this good since he was playing in Finland in 2004-05.

"I felt good. There's no doubt about it," Thomas said.

No kidding? That's an understatement.

Say what you want about the Bruins beating the Flyers in their first meeting since last season's devastating loss to Philly in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but it was more about Boston being able to stabilize its game.

The Bruins needed Thomas. They got Thomas.

"He's playing like Timmy," said Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron, who scored a power-play goal in the victory. "That's just him. He's giving us a chance to win night in and night out. We had a good effort in front of him and we got that win for him."

Thomas has been doing his job and then some this season. But it wasn't all goaltending that helped Boston put forth its best effort in a while on Wednesday.

The Bruins were determined. They were efficient. They played with a purpose. They played smart.

It didn't matter who their opponent was, because the way Boston had played entering Wednesday's game, having lost four of five, it needed a strong start with a consistent effort. The Bruins were solid in every aspect of the game for the entire 60 minutes.

"Sometimes to get yourselves back on track, you've got to show a little bit of desperation and commitment," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I thought we did that tonight. The guys were committed, and it was important for each other to show that they were going to do whatever it took to win this hockey game. I like the way our guys showed up tonight, and it was an important win."

Thomas knew he needed to be the one to give the Bruins the early momentum, and he was able to accomplish that on the first shift of the game when the Flyers quickly applied pressure and produced a couple of scoring opportunities.

"That little flurry probably made me feel more confident going forward because we survived it," Thomas said.

He stifled Philadelphia for 60 minutes, and the Flyers were clearly frustrated at Thomas' prowess between the pipes.

"He's done it all year," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "I said that before, someone asked me if it surprises me and the answer is no. He had an up-and-down year last year, but prior to that he was solid. He [won] the Vezina Trophy and now he's back to that point."

It's no secret Thomas is playing well, and he proved it again Wednesday, not allowing anything behind him. Even when the Flyers produced quality scoring chances, he made the big saves when he needed to.

"He's playing really well and he's having a strong year so far," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "He's making big saves in crucial times for us. He's a big difference for us in the net."

Thomas clearly wants to prove to himself and his teammates that he's still capable of playing like a Vezina Trophy winner as the league's best goalie. He won the award two seasons ago, but struggled at times last winter, eventually losing his job to up-and-comer Tuukka Rask.

Thomas had offseason hip surgery and entered training camp as motivated as he's ever been. And when Thomas is playing well, he can sustain that success for a long time. The NHL is seeing that right now.

"Timmy stood tall from start to finish," Julien said. "He really played big. Had he let one sneak in, it might have been a different game and we know that. A goaltender is part of your team and he has to do his share. He took a big share of the responsibility tonight and helped us win that hockey game."

Thomas, who improved to 9-0-0 on the road and lowered his league-best goals-against average to 1.46, said the last time he felt this good was during the NHL's lockout (2004-05) when he spent the season playing for Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League. Thomas posted 15 shutouts that season, and while reaching that mark in the NHL would be a lot more difficult, he's feeling the way he did in Finland.

"Yeah, I do," he said. "I do feel similar, but this is the NHL and it's tougher."

In the Finnish Elite League, a goaltender can do it all on his own. That's not the case in North America, and Thomas knows how vital the entre team effort is to his success.

"The NHL has the best players in the world, there's not doubt about it."

And there's also no doubt Thomas is one of the best goaltenders in the world right now.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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