- James Murphy, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Tim Thomas sat in his stall after the Boston Bruins' morning skate Thursday prior to their game against the Philadelphia Flyers. The goalie discussed how important it is to be even-keeled through the peaks and valleys of an 82-game season and then, hopefully, the playoffs.
"It's a learning experience as a team," Thomas said. "Individually, as an athlete, the 'not too high, not too low' thing is something that is beneficial to you to learn individually. But then every year, because the dynamics of the team change a little bit, you have to learn it as a group.
"It's poetry in motion, kind of, because if you see guys that normally are up getting too down, you gotta pick them up, and if you see guys that normally are pretty even-keeled getting too excited, you tone them down a little bit. Not me, but maybe [Mark] Recchi might see it, so he says something, and then 'Z' [Zdeno Chara] sees it at a different time, [so] he says it."
Thomas probably had no idea that he was in effect a fortune-teller, as about six hours later, his team stepped into a game that would prove to be a microcosm of exactly how he was trying to describe the NHL season. The Bruins' bout with the Flyers turned out to be a barn burner and dramatic 7-5 win for the Bruins' third straight victory since dropping a 3-2 heartbreaker to the rival Canadiens this past Saturday in Montreal. The Bruins and Flyers exchanged the lead six times Thursday night in one of the wildest games at TD Garden since probably the 5-4 win over the Canadiens in Game 6 of the 2008 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
"Yes, that was a roller coaster," Thomas said afterward. "Sometimes the best-laid plans don't work out that way and you got to roll with the punches, and we did a good job with that. [P]art of keeping the even keel is no matter what adversity you face or what comes your way, you just figure out a way to overcome it and do your job."
Thomas, who has saved his team time after time this season, was rather pedestrian Thursday in allowing five goals on 35 shots. He did come up with some clutch saves when needed, but his teammates recognized they needed to pick up the slack and did so in a game full of momentum swings.
From rookie Brad Marchand tying the game at 11:26 of the third period to Michael Ryder scoring his first goal in seven games to Patrice Bergeron stretching his point streak to five games and scoring his sixth goal of that stretch to Chara scoring his second goal since unraveling on and off the ice in the loss to Montreal to rookie Steven Kampfer scoring the game winner with 1:14 left, the team as a whole stayed the course through this seesaw battle.
"Yeah, it was a huge character win tonight," Thomas said. "The guys just decided they weren't going to give up and they were going to find a way to do it. And I wasn't making stops that I usually make, and they decided to pick me up. And it was everything -- it was Bergy winning faceoffs, Blake Wheeler blocking shots, Kampfer scoring and Zdeno Chara blocking it was everything. I don't want to leave anybody out. It was pretty to watch in front of me.
"Now, granted, both teams probably didn't play the defense that they wanted to, but sometimes that's hockey and it is what it is and you just got to find a way to come out on top. And we did that."
It was a rare occasion this season for Thomas not to be making all the stops. The netminder went through a tumultuous season in 2009-10, and coming off a Vezina Trophy in 2008-09, the critics were harsh as he struggled to a 17-18-8 record with a 2.56 goals-against average and .915 save percentage after going 36-11-7 with a 2.10 GAA and .933 save percentage the year before. Thomas admitted that at times last season, the boo-birds and media got to him and affected his confidence. Now, he just does his best to not read, watch or listen to the critics and worry only about preparation.
"I found out last year that I'm better off that way because [paying attention to it] makes me think of things that are unproductive for me to think about," said Thomas, who is now a Vezina Trophy candidate again with a 19-4-6 record, 1.77 GAA and .946 save percentage. "I need to be thinking of, 'How do I get my body to be most prepared for the game that night? How do I get mentally prepared or what do I eat that night to keep my body conditioned for the next game?' I make sure I have a good schedule for sleeping, and so on. That all takes enough energy itself. "
And as the way the Bruins won Thursday night proved, a team can not only be on top of the world one game and down the next, but the change can happen within a game -- shift to shift, play to play. For Thomas and the Bruins, the plan is to ride the wave and block out the rest. If they fail to do that during the regular season, surely they won't be able to do it in the playoffs when there is no time to dwell on a loss or celebrate a victory.
"We learn our lessons pretty quickly," Thomas said. "We have bumps every year, even two years ago. But when playoffs come, it really is a totally different season."
It might be January, but it seems Thomas and the Bruins have found that not looking too far ahead can help them reach the ultimate goal.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.