By John Bishop, BostonBruins.comBoston -- Tim Thomas
looked anything but relieved as he sat in his locker room stall following Tuesday's practice at the TD Banknorth Garden. Considering it was he who was staying in Boston with the Bruins and now the odds on favorite to be the number one goaltender, it might have been a surprise to the uninitiated, but to the many writers and staffers who shuffle in and out of the B's world -- they know Tim better than that.
Indeed, the Boston Bruins had just endured a brutal practice at the hands of Head Coach Dave Lewis and word had spread quickly throughout the building, and the NHL for that matter, that his goaltending partner, and very good friend, Hannu Toivonen, had been assigned to the Providence Bruins.
There would be no celebration for Thomas.
And moreover, with the Bruins losing on Monday, despite 34 saves from Thomas, Tim was asked, what, if anything, could he focus on going into the rest of the week with games versus Boston division rivals Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators.
Thomas, a philosopher, comparatively, in this particular locker room, rubbed his face and looked pensive when asked about his fellow goalie's trip to the minors.
He tried to concentrate and tune out the bruise developing from an errant shot to the inside of his thigh which snuck through the armor of his goaltending pants. Thomas, focused, rubbed his face a little more, and answered in is slow and precise style.
"Well, as far as Hannu going down, he can easily turn that into a positive," said Thomas, aged 32, and a native of Flint, Michigan. "He can go down there and practice hard, but also practice and relax and have fun.
"Not in a 'big wheel' sort've way though…it's hard to explain. [A goalie wants to] get enough playing time so you know you are getting to the point that you are not thinking -- you are just playing."
"And that is the [mental state] that you have to get to," he said.
Thomas knows of which he speaks, as he has also played his fair share of hockey in Providence and has backstopped teams in six leagues, played games in four countries and donned the pads in two continents since arriving at the University of Vermont in 1993.
And, after hearing rumors and seeing his buddy Toivo head for the Baby B's, Thomas knows he has to perform well in order to keep his place in the Boston lineup.
"As far as [Monday] night goes for me…I think I played a reasonably good game," Thomas explained, having previously stated that a couple of shots had redirected off of Bruin defenders during the Atlanta debacle. "There were just some bad bounces."
But he concedes that he needs to put the loss behind him.
"I think the key to it is just not to think about it and just play, kind've like Hannu [has to in Providence]. If you over think it then you can actually get off your game," said Thomas.
"My game is mostly there. Maybe I can pick it up one more level, but I don't want to backtrack, either. I'd like to put [my game] over the edge, you know. Not only keep the team in the game, but win a couple and get us out of these doldrums.
"I haven't quite been able to do that yet," he said.
The bottom line: Thomas just wants to help his team win.
"It's always a team effort," he said. "But if I can stand on my head for a couple of games it can help out a lot."
"Having said that, you can't go into a game planning to stand on your head, you have to just go out and play…and do what comes natural to me."
Like stopping the puck.
And barring any unforeseen moves from the Bruins front office, Thomas has a clear shot at the number one goaltending berth -- but with Boston already several points out of the eighth and final playoff spot, the time for a turnaround is now.
"Collectively, we have to cut the goals against down," said Lewis. "We have to find a way to tighten up defensively and find a way to do a better job of killing penalties.
"We have to find a way to make sure we clear rebounds. And the goaltender has to find a way to make initial saves.
"So, we are nowhere near where we want to be," he said.
And for now, it's Tim Thomas
' job to find a way to make those saves and that task will continue Thursday versus Toronto.