And it was a game that lived up to its billing, a showdown between the two hottest teams in the Eastern Conference.
Thomas made 25 saves and Milan Lucic broke a scoreless tie early in the third period as Bruins beat the Devils 2-0 on Tuesday night.
"It was a good test and good game for us," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "It was one of those games where you have to be really patient, strong on the puck and minimize mistakes. It was a nice win."
The Bruins, the Eastern Conference leaders, extended their winning streak to six, their longest stretch since last season. The only negative for Boston was the end of Phil Kessel's point scoring streak, snapped after 18 games.
Lucic scored 49 seconds into the third period. Zdeno Chara fired a hard shot from the top of the right circle. The rebound came right to Lucic, positioned between the hash marks and he buried the shot between Scott Clemmensen's pads.
"Z was just trying to get the puck on net," Lucic said. "It was a lucky bounce for us. It landed on my stick and I tried to get it off as quickly as I could."
Clemmensen had no time to react.
"It was a shot from the point and it hit something," Clemmensen said. "It deflected right to the front of our net. I saw Lucic standing right there. I think because of the deflection, the puck had a little spin on it. I think he missed the shot a little bit and I was a little off balance trying to slide from my left to right. The combination of those two things led to the goal."
"New Jersey just doesn't give you much offensively," Thomas said. "The key to that is to be patient and play good defense yourself. We certainly did a good job of that tonight. My teammates helped me out tonight big-time, getting to rebounds. They gave me a pretty good Christmas present."
David Krejci added an empty-net goal to seal the win.
The Devils, coping with the loss of four-time Vezina Trophy winner Martin Brodeur until February or March, were 12-2-1 in the their previous 15 games. Clemmensen made 22 saves but it wasn't enough to extend New Jersey's three-game winning streak.
It was also a matchup of two of the top defensive teams in the conference and both sides played up to that level.
"Both teams played really tight," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "It was a playoff-type game. We did have some opportunities but it just didn't go in. What were the scoring opportunities for, five or six for each team? That's how tight it was."
Each team had nine shots in the scoreless first period, and an equal number of quality chances. Clemmensen stopped Chuck Kobasew's drive off the left wing and Michael Ryder's close-in bid. At the other end, Brian Rolston hit the post for the Devils.
The Bruins and Devils again had nine shots each in the second period. New Jersey had an outstanding opportunity when Jamie Langenbrunner and Patrik Elias zipped into the Bruins zone on a 2-on-1 break with 4 minutes remaining. Langenbrunner, on the right side, unloaded a hard shot that Thomas stopped. Alert backchecking by Blake Wheeler kept Elias from getting a clean shot at the rebound.
Notes: John Madden returned for the Devils after missing two games with the flu. D Bryce Salvador sat a third straight game with an upper-body injury. ... C Patrice Bergeron remained sidelined for the Bruins with a concussion suffered on Dec. 20 against the Hurricanes. ... The game was the second of a five-game road trip for the Bruins who move on to Carolina, Atlanta and Pittsburgh following the two-day Christmas break. ... Thomas got the nod for the Bruins even though Manny Fernandez had won the past two games. ... Shawn Thornton and Mike Rupp fought midway through the second period after Rupp delivered crunching hits on Dennis Widerman and Vladimir Sobotka. ... Elias had picked up a point in 10 straight games.
|Milan Lucic (10) ASST: Zdeno Chara (14), Shane Hnidy (6)|
1 - 0 BOS
|EN - David Krejci (13) ASST: NONE|
2 - 0 BOS
|Power Play %||32.4%||20.7%|
|% on Road||27.3%||25.6%|
|% at Home||37.1%||16.3%|
|Bobby Holik Interference against Dennis Wideman|
|Matt Hunwick Hooking against Brian Rolston|
|Zach Parise Hooking against Zdeno Chara|
|Stephane Yelle Hooking against Patrik Elias|
|Phil Kessel Hooking against Johnny Oduya|
|Shawn Thornton Fighting (maj) against Mike Rupp|
|Mike Rupp Fighting (maj) against Shawn Thornton|
|Brian Rolston Slashing against Dennis Wideman|
|Brian Gionta Boarding against Marc Savard|