WILMINGTON, Mass. -- In an effort to keep things loose a day before what could be the last game of their season, the Boston Bruins held a shootout contest at the conclusion of practice Tuesday at Ristuccia Arena.
With the squad split in half, the victors earned the right to watch the other group skate a lap around the rink in defeat. Tim Thomas didn't participate for either group, so he had no rooting interest. Thomas was saving all of his competitive juices for what is most important -- Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Wednesday night at TD Garden.
"I had enough shootouts this year," Thomas quipped after leaving the ice.
No one with the Bruins can have any problem with Thomas monitoring his practice workload considering how far he has taken the team the last couple years. In earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP last season, he won three Game 7s. In those ultimate showdowns, which included two shutouts, he posted a .969 save percentage and a 0.97 goals-against average.
Thomas' victories were his first as an NHL goaltender after he lost Game 7s to Montreal and Carolina in 2008 and 2009, respectively. He believes all those experiences will aid him against the Capitals.
"I think being on the bad side allows you to know that you can fail in life and life will go on and your life won't be ruined," the 38-year-old goaltender said. "And until you've had that experience, it's real tough to handle. So I think that actually gave me an advantage going into the Game 7s last year because of that experience.
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"But having won gives you confidence ... quite a few times in Game 7s since then. It gives you confidence that you can get it done again."
Against Washington, Thomas has posted a 2.18 GAA and .922 save percentage. While those are outstanding numbers, Thomas bore the brunt of the blame for Boston's 4-3 loss in Game 5. Washington's third goal was scored by Mike Knuble on a juicy rebound after a soft wrist shot from long distance by Joel Ward.
The Capitals then won the game on a Troy Brouwer shot on the rush, also from a long distance, that beat Thomas high to the short side. Those are the types of goals that send some coaching staffs and fan bases into a tizzy about the need for a goaltending switch. That never seems to be the case, however, in Boston. Even when Thomas wasn't at his best during the 2011 run, Bruins coach Claude Julien never pulled him during a game nor gave Tuukka Rask a start. And the coach's mindset is the same this time around.
"In Game 5, I saw Timmy. ... I saw him pretty upset after the game. Upset or disappointed, whatever word we want to use here, but the minute I saw that I just told him to relax and that tomorrow's another day," Julien said.
"When you know this goaltender because you've had him for such a long time, you know his character and you know how he is. To me, I just had that great feeling -- I'm not going to say I had no doubt -- but I had a real great feeling that he was going to come out and play a real big game for us because that's how Timmy is. If I didn't have that feeling, maybe I'd have to think about do I put in another goaltender? But when you know him as well as I do, right now there's no doubt. We're going back with him because he's going to stand tall and he likes those challenges and he thrives on those. And that's why he's been the type of goaltender he's been for years and that's why he's been recognized as one of the best."
Thomas responded with 36 saves in Game 6 on Sunday, and the most important stat was he allowed one fewer goal than his counterpart Braden Holtby in an overtime thriller.
Redemption has always been a big part of Thomas' makeup, dating back to his attempts to crack the NHL by starring overseas and then his ability to hang on to the Bruins' starting job for all but one of the last several seasons and win the Vezina Trophy twice. What Julien saw in Thomas post-Game 5 was the goaltender already looking forward to the next game.
"Just that, I mean, I wish I could be perfect and never let in a goal. It aches me to let in any goals," Thomas said. "But I have to put it behind me. But being in a situation like we were on Saturday night, to put out what I feel was a real good effort the majority the game and then to get scored on twice in the third period and lose the game, that's what I was disappointed in. I wanted to do anything I could to help us win the next time because I know it's tough circumstances going on the road for Game 6 in their building and two games in 48 hours. And so that's what I was doing."
Among a group of stars, Thomas was one of the main reasons the Bruins survived Game 6 to set up one more showdown with Washington. He intends to repeat his Game 7 performances from a year ago by starting out with the same approach.
"It means something," Thomas said of the 2011 experiences. "It means that you've been there and you know that you can win. ... That's helpful, but at the same time, you have to be the one that puts in the work. If you want to be the one that comes out on top in Game 7, you have to be the one that is willing to pay the price and is really prepared to give it everything you have."