PHILADELPHIA -- On a night when the Philadelphia Flyers were hoping to keep alive the memory of their miraculous seven-game playoff victory against the Boston Bruins last spring, they ran into Tim Thomas at his best.
Thomas, who watched Philadelphia's historic rally last spring from the Bruins' bench, made 41 saves to steal the show on Wednesday as the Bruins beat the Flyers 3-0 at the Wells Fargo Center.
"It was a fun game because everything went my way and the guys worked hard in front of me and the defensemen were blocking shots," Thomas said. "That was a hard work victory and it feels good to be rewarded like that."
"Goaltending is a very team-dependent position," Thomas admitted. "Without the effort and blocked shots and even players stopping those chances in front, it doesn't happen."
There was plenty of talk leading up to the game about last spring's Eastern Conference Semifinal showdown between the clubs -- when the Flyers became the first team in 35 years to win a best-of-7 series after losing the first three games.
Thomas, however, wasn't a part of that forgettable moment in Boston history and, on this night, was absolutely stupendous. The 2009 Vezina Trophy winner battled injuries last season and lost the starting job to Tuukka Rask, who played every minute of the playoffs for Boston. But Thomas shut out Phoenix in the second game of the season and has won back the starting job. Wednesday's victory was his 12th of the season, and he's now 9-0-0 on the road -- the best road start by an NHL goaltender since Chicago's Glenn Hall won his first nine games in 1965-66.
"With the way we played the last few games (1-3-1), we wanted to have a strong game no matter who we played against tonight," Chara said. "We had it in our minds that's the team that came back on us. They really deserved it because they played strong in the playoffs and made it to the Final. We used that a little as a motivator."
That's precisely the approach Boston coach Claude Julien wanted the team to take.
"I don't think (our playoff loss) cannot be there, but I don't think the whole focus of tonight was on that more than it was we needed to win a hockey game," he said. "We haven't been pleased with our games of late. My comment was, if you guys want to use that (playoff loss) as motivation, go ahead. There's nothing wrong with it. But the bottom line was we focused on winning this game for all the right reasons more than for reasons that happened last year."
The loss was the third straight for the Flyers and the second time this season they were shut out. Carey Price also made 41 saves for the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 16 in a 3-0 victory. Prior to this season, the last time the Flyers had that many shots in a shutout loss was Jan. 26, 1989, when Clint Malarchuk of the Washington Capitals turned aside 42 Flyers shots in a 1-0 win at the Spectrum.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette wasn't surprised by Thomas' heroic effort.
"He's done it all year," Laviolette said. "I said that before. Someone asked me if it surprises me and the answer is no, you know he's done this. He had an up-and-down year last year, but prior to that, he was solid and got the Vezina Trophy -- and now he's back to that point. He's playing very well for them; you know we couldn't slide anything by him. We did have some good opportunities, but he made big saves when he needed to."
Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin scored in the first period to provide Thomas all the support he would need in recording his League-high fifth shutout of the season. Milan Lucic sealed the deal by hitting the empty net for his team-leading 11th goal with 1:48 remaining.
Thomas turned aside 16 shots in the second period, including a penalty shot at 17:20 after Scott Hartnell was hauled down after getting past the defense. But Hartnell attempted a backhand that Thomas had no trouble stopping. Even before that, Thomas had the Flyers and their fans shaking their heads during a spectacular exhibition of goaltending.
"You'd like to do that on every shooter," Thomas said. "I didn't want to over-think it and just think of what he might do. He took a shot low blocker. At one point, I started to think is he was going to go back there and I was like, no. I tried to empty my mind and just react."
Hartnell, who finished a minus-2 with four shots on goal, could only tip his cap to Thomas.
"We met a goalie that stops everything; back doors, breakaways, some great chances in front," Hartnell said. "He's covering up the rebounds. It's tough to beat a goalie like that. I think we had the chances, we just couldn't put them in the net."
Some of his highlight-reel saves in the second included his point-blank stop on Danny Briere at 2:56; his block of Hartnell's wraparound attempt at 5:55; a big pad stop on James van Riemsdyk from the slot at 8:09 and then a denial of Jeff Carter's well-timed tip in the crease at 10:27. Heck, he was even penalized for roughing Hartnell at 15:13 before stoning a blistering wrist shot off the stick of Andreas Nodl from the right circle at 18:33.
It was one of those nights where an opposition shooter would have been hard-pressed to get a marble past Thomas, let alone a puck.
"I felt good, no doubt about it," Thomas said. "I went into that game with the focus to be ready for anything. I've watched (the Flyers) on TV and even during last year's playoffs and they do some pretty funny stuff. I think that save I had on Briere in front of the net was the toughest (in the second). It was so quick and I surprised myself, to be honest. Maybe there was a little bit of luck on my side."
The Bruins opened a 2-0 lead in the first on goals by Bergeron and Seguin. Bergeron put them ahead 5:40 into the game when he controlled a clearing attempt by Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros in the high slot before slamming home his fourth of the season.
Seguin, the No. 2 pick in the Entry Draft six months ago, then scored his first goal in seven games when he took a backhand pass from Michael Ryder off a 2-on-1 down low and went top-shelf on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky at 15:12. Thomas, now 4-1-1 in his last six games, turned aside 15 shots to keep the Flyers scoreless in the opening period for the third straight game.
Bobrovsky stopped 29 shots but got no help from his offense, especially the power play, which again went scoreless and is now 2-for-37 in the last eight games. Philadelphia is 2-for-45 with the extra man in its 11 losses this season.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
|Nikolay Zherdev Tripping against Zdeno Chara|
|Milan Lucic Tripping against Jody Shelley|
|Jody Shelley Fighting (maj) against Shawn Thornton|
|Shawn Thornton Fighting (maj) against Jody Shelley|
|Dennis Seidenberg Tripping against Claude Giroux|
|David Krejci Hooking against Nikolay Zherdev|
|Shawn Thornton Holding against Andreas Nodl|
|Jody Shelley Roughing against Adam McQuaid|
|Scott Hartnell Slashing against Tim Thomas|
|Tim Thomas Roughing against Scott Hartnell|