The Panthers announced via their Twitter feed on Wednesday, just as the B's finished up practice at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, that the former B's goaltender "will play against his previous club" on Thursday.
Thomas had been out with a groin injury since October 8 against Philadelphia and did not make a recent road trip with the Panthers to Nashville, but his progress appears to be on track for him to play Thursday night.
Though confirmation from Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien on his starting goaltender won't come until after morning skate on Thursday, we can expect to see Tuukka Rask starting in goal, making what years ago would have been an unlikely reunion at opposing ends all but inevitable.
"I never thought that we would play against each other," Rask said following Wednesday's practice. "But I’m glad that he made his comeback and proved people wrong again, and I hope he does well."
"All those years shooting on him in practice, I think it’ll be fun to finally shoot on him in a game and I’m sure he’s looking forward to it as well," said Milan Lucic. "I’m sure he’s happy to be back in the NHL playing and he’s found a new home here in Florida."
"I think, especially for this one, regardless of how it ended or not," added Lucic, when it was insinuated that Thomas might be bringing his best for this one.
"I think there’s still something special with this organization and him just because of the Stanley Cup and two Vezinas and a Conn Smythe. He was a competitor and that’s why you expect that level of play from him."
The match-up was on the NHL radar ever since Thomas signed a one-year deal with Florida on September 26 after participating in their training camp on a professional tryout.
When Thomas was with Boston, 2012-13 had marked the final season of his four-year contract, before he took the year off. General Manager Peter Chiarelli traded him to the New York Islanders, to allow for cap flexibility, in early Feburary.
"First and foremost, Tim was, obviously, a huge part of our team and said that in all likelihood he wasn't going to play this year, so he became an asset," Chiarelli had said.
Like many of the Bruins who have since gone elsewhere since the 2011 Cup run, there are always memories conjured up with a reunion, especially when it's the first one.
It's something Rask may not have thought would ever happen, backing up Thomas for three straight seasons, before assuming the starting role upon his departure in 2013-14.
'Would you want to play against Thomas?' a reporter asked the Bruins' netminder on Wednesday after practice, and prior to the news being announced that Thomas would indeed be in goal.
"Is he playing??" Rask interjected, before the gathered press mentioned [at the time] it was a possiblity.
"Oh, I don't care… yeah, that'd be fine," Rask said, ever coolly. "We practiced together for many years so I don’t think it’s any different because we both practice like we play. So it probably just would be lots more people out there watching us."
'Will you have the chance to talk to him?'
"Yeah, maybe we’ll fight or something," he jested, before a conversation broke out among reporters that that would certainly help with the storylines.
"You always share a couple words during warm-ups or something and that’s about it."
Rask spent those years with Thomas, learning from the competitor and biding his time before taking advantage of an opportunity like he did last season.
"In hindsight, when you look back, it might have been the best thing for him [to back up Tim Thomas]," Julien had said in June, amidst Rask's stellar postseason performance. "It allowed him to mature at a reasonable rate instead of being thrown to the wolves."
"He's matured a lot. I'm not talking about personality, but mentally, the mental toughness, then being able to be ready game in, game out. To be able to get where he is right now speaks volumes about how ready he is to be that goaltender that can be just as good as Tim was for us."
If Thomas hadn't decided to take the year off, and Rask didn't sign the one-year deal, maybe the situation would have played out differently for the B's goalie, who signed an eight-year extension in the offseason.
"Yeah you can always play that could have, should have, would have game," Rask told reporters in Sunrise. "I don't really look at things that way."
Two U's, Two K's, Two Points
Thursday night's game will carry the "Bruins vs. Tim Thomas" theme until the final buzzer (and beyond), but for the Black & Gold, they're trying to stay focused on the two points they need against the Atlantic Division team.
"We want to win. We’re one game over .500 now and I think we just want to improve that record and it doesn’t matter if it’s against Timmy or whoever," said Rask. "We just want to win the game."
"It's more about our team," remarked Julien, steering his focus away - just as his team is - from the player between the pipes. "We need to win some games on this road trip and whoever's in net, we're going to have to beat, no matter what."
It's not the first time Julien has been asked about the inevitable match-up with Thomas, and it likely won't be the last time, but he's more absorbed in getting his team on a roll, and improving upon their 3-2-0 record.
"You lose players like that, that were well respected and liked in the dressing room, and you have to turn the page," he said. "We have to do the same thing here with Timmy."
"Timmy’s got a new career here going on with Florida and we’ve got our own that we have to take care of. So it’s more about putting the past aside for this game and looking forward to doing the job that we came here for, and that’s winning a hockey game."