Bruins

Haggerty: Thomas finally turns it on in the third

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Haggerty: Thomas finally turns it on in the third

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

MONTREAL There were a lot of heavy criticisms being weighed at Tim Thomas heading into Monday nights Game 3 at the Bell Centre home of the Canadiens.

Some were fair and some werent, but he answered all of them with a third period for the ages.

Thomas has obviously proven everything he needs to during the regular season, but hes always had a difficult time recreating his uniquely magical brand of goaltending during the playoffs. The 37-year-old had never really stolen a playoff game for the Bruins in his four years of playoffs, and hes only captured one series victory in four tries at the Stanley Cup playoffs.

His save percentage after two games against Montreal sat at .891. He set the NHL record for that statistic during the regular season so something was clearly amiss.

With questions swirling about his game after a couple of juicy rebounds surrendered in Bostons Game 2 loss, Thomas looked to be on something close to a mission while standing on his head for 14 saves in a 4-2 win for Boston at the Bell Centre Monday night.

I was happy to get the win. The team needed it . . . I needed it, said Thomas, with an allusion toward the less-than-stellar way the series began for Bostons elite goaltender.

That it all came after Thomas had fallen victim to a pair of five-hole scores from Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec in the final two periods was a tribute to the Boston goaltenders determination and experience in dusting off miscues.

It seems big-game experience combined with his still-sharp goaltending skills are finally marrying into a formidable postseason goaltender, serving notice to Montreal attackers theres no discernible difference between regular-season Timmy and playoff Timmy.

Either way, thou shalt not pass with the puck.

Thats Timmy, said Patrice Bergeron. You look at his career and what hes been through, and where hes at now. Hes amazing. You cant question his mental stuff. Hes a battler and hes a competitor. Im just happy to have him with us.

The Thomas highlight stop with four minutes remaining in the third period on Kostitsyn from the edge of right face-off dot was equal parts aggressive and confident. It was a statement that the Canadiens werent going to tie things up easily with a 3-2 score on the board.

Mike Cammalleri set Kostitsyn up with a nifty little drop-back pass, and the Belarus native was turned away by Thomas without any of the superfluous movement that can sometimes creep into the goalie's game. Thomas simply kept telling himself how good it was going to feel once hed mastered the chaos and chances around the net in the third period. He came through with save after save after glorious save.

Call it the Timmy happy place, if you must.

It was nerve-wracking, but it also felt great, said Thomas when asked what it was like to battle through the chaos while Montreal leveled 15 shots at him. It was great to have the lead and be battling from that side of it. You just kept thinking its going to feel good if you end up on top.

After smothering Kostitsyns sniper bid, Thomas pounced on a point-blank chance from Scott Gomez directly on the doorstep and fought off the underachieving Montreal forward for the puck before earning a play stoppage.

It was a little bit street hockey-style at times, but it worked as the Canadiens flooded him with shots in a third period. Montreal outshoot the Bruins by a 15-6 margin, but Thomas never gave an inch after his two miscues.

Steeled by the failures just 48 hours prior on his own home ice, Thomas felt like he had a lot to prove to his teammates, the fans and most importantly to himself after hovering somewhere between average and rented goalie in the first few games of the series.

In the third period Thomas ascended from rented goalie to Vezina Special, and the Habs have to be concerned the notoriously streaky Boston goalie is about to rip off one of his patented otherworldly stretches.

Nothing can get by him when Thomas is feeling it and he seemed to be feeling something in the final 15 minutes.

He made some big saves, said Claude Julien. The fact that he could do that shows a lot of character because theres no doubt hed like to have those two goals back. But he could have had negative thoughts and not been sharp, but doing what he did meant he wanted to redeem himself.

Those saves were huge because if he didnt make them then youre looking at a tie game in their building.

Thomas has learned a lot over his nearly 850 career hockey games in the ECAC, ECHL, Finland, Sweden, the AHL, IHL, NHL, and all points in between and perhaps the biggest lesson is its not about how you start, its about how you finish. And Thomas punched an exclamation point in the final period with the way he controlled everything between his pipes while giving his team some life.

The real Thomas and the rest of the sleeping Bruins have finally woken up, and now the playoff series is about to get very interesting.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

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Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the new Brown Sugar Cinnamon coffee flavor at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not Cookie Dough, but what is after all?

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer James O’Brien has the details on Radko Gudas getting ejected for an ugly, reckless and dangerous slash to Mathieu Perreault’s head last night. Gudas should be facing a long suspension for a play that has no place in the NHL. It’s time for Flyers fans to stop making excuses for a player who’s no better than a cheap-shot artist and hatchet man. He has to face the music for consistently trying to hurt his fellow players.  

*Frank Seravalli has some of the details for a historic GM meeting in Montreal where NHL hockey was born in the first place.

*You always need to link to a service dog being part of the pregame face-off ceremonies. That’s like a rule here at the morning skate?

*Cam Atkinson and the Columbus Blue Jackets have agreed to a seven-year contract extension, according to reports from the Athletic.

*It’s been quite an eventful year for Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet and some of it has been to the extreme both good and bad just a month into his first year as bench boss.

*For something completely different: Chris Mannix is all-in on the Celtics being the front-runners in the Eastern Conference after their big win over the Golden State Warriors.

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Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

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Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

These are desperate times for the Bruins even after pulling out a solid, blue-collar 2-1 win over a sputtering Los Angeles Kings team on Thursday night.

The victory ended a four-game losing streak and gave the Bruins just their second road win of the season in eight tries. It was also the fourth win of the season for backup netminder Anton Khudobin, who is a sterling 4-0-2 and has given them everything they could possibly hope for out of the backup spot. The Bruins have a grand total of 18 points on the season and Khudobin miraculously has more than half of those (10 to be exact).

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It’s clearly a far cry from last season for Khudobin, of course, when it took until February for the goalie’s season to get in gear.

But Thursday night’s 27-save effort from Khudobin was also a stunning contrast to what Tuukka Rask has been able to produce this season. Khudobin has a .928 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average. Rask has a dreadful .897 save percentage while giving them average play between the pipes at best.  

Khudobin is tied for seventh in the NHL with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in save percentage and Rask is chilling in the NHL goalie statistical basement with retreads Steve Mason and James Reimer.

Quite simply, Khudobin has been way better than Rask and the Bruins have, for whatever reason, played better hockey in front of their backup goalie. Some of it might also be about Khudobin’s more adaptable game behind a Boston defense that can make things unpredictable for their goaltender, but Rask is being paid $7 million a season to be better and figure it out. It would be amazing if this trend continued for the entire season and it would certainly merit more examination from management as to why the rest of the Bruins and Rask can’t seem to combine for an effective, winning product on the ice.

For now, the Bruins need to simply win by whatever means necessary and that amounts to riding Khudobin’s hot streak for as long as it lasts. It should begin with the backup goalie getting a second consecutive start against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night and seeing where it goes from there. Perhaps the extra rest gets Rask additional time to get his game together, or serves as the kind of motivation to get the Finnish netminder into a mode where he can steal games for an undermanned, out-gunned team that needs that right now.

“We’re going to look at it,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked postgame by reporters in L.A. about his goalie for Saturday night. “He played very well against San Jose last time. They’re a heavy team. He seems to do well in these kinds of games with a lot of traffic around the net. But we’ll look at that decision [Friday].”

Khudobin has stopped 57 of 61 shots in his two games in November, so perhaps that level of hot goaltending could also allow the Bruins to survive a month that otherwise might absolutely bury their playoff hopes. Maybe Khudobin finally loses on Saturday night and the goaltending conversation, not controversy, ends as quickly as his point streak. For now, riding the hot goalie is the right call for a team that needs something good to hang onto.

The Bruins are in desperation mode until they get a number of their injured players back. There certainly might not be more of a desperate option than setting their beleaguered sights on a goalie they sent to the minors as recently as last season. But it’s a new season, Khudobin has been excellent and he’s earned a chance to carry this team for a little bit until they can get things back in order.

Calling Khudobin’s number is the right call right now for the Bruins and, quite frankly, shouldn’t be that difficult a choice given what we’ve seen so far this season. 

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