Goaltender Tim Thomas has been the Boston Bruins' backbone this season. Alex Auld is making sure the Bruins don't miss him too much.
Auld, acquired last week after Thomas got hurt, will likely be in net to go for his third straight win when Boston visits the Atlanta Thrashers on Wednesday.
This is the first meeting of the season between these clubs and Atlanta (14-14-1) has won the last six, but the Bruins (16-10-3) have gotten off to the better start this season while exceeding expectations despite various injuries.
While forward Patrice Bergeron (concussion) and goalie Manny Fernandez (herniated disc) remain sidelined, the biggest loss for Boston appeared to come with Thomas injuring his groin in a 4-3 overtime loss at New Jersey on Dec. 5. The Bruins lost the following night with rookie Tuukka Rask in net - 4-2 to Montreal - but they acquired Auld from Phoenix earlier that day and he's started the last two games.
Auld has done an outstanding job filling in, allowing two goals on 71 shots in road wins over Toronto and Buffalo, including a 44-save effort in a 4-1 win over the Sabres on Monday.
Boston jumped out to a 3-1 first-period lead against Buffalo, but was outshot 45-21. Auld had 20 saves in the second period.
"I have a lot of confidence in what I can do, but at the same time you don't want to get too ahead of yourself," Auld said. "I feel I can play in this league and I feel it's where I belong."
Thomas is due back soon and already has been assured by Boston coach Claude Julien that he will reclaim the starting job after posting dominant numbers (2.14 goals-against average, .936 save percentage) in 20 starts this season.
Thomas is a big reason the Bruins have allowed just 72 goals, tied for second-fewest in the Eastern Conference. Boston is 9-4-1 in its last 14 games, moving into a tie for the second-most points (35) in the conference.
Atlanta has not received nearly the same kind of top-notch goaltending, having allowed at least five goals in a game eight times. The Thrashers have been outscored 96-80, the worst goal differential in the NHL.
Kari Lehtonen allowed six goals on just 27 shots as Atlanta had its four-game point streak (3-0-1) snapped with a 6-3 loss at Washington on Saturday.
"It seemed like from the moment the puck dropped, they were outworking us," defenseman Tobias Enstrom said. "It was almost like we didn't want it, and we were taking the easy way out. They won all their battles and we didn't show up."
Still, the Thrashers have recovered from an 0-6-0 start after winning the Southeast Division last season. Ilya Kovalchuk leads the NHL with 23 goals, and Marian Hossa, a 100-point scorer last season, has a six-game point streak.
Atlanta could get help from 39-year-old right wing Mark Recchi, whom the Thrashers claimed off waivers Saturday. He could make his first appearance with Atlanta against Boston.
The Bruins also hope to have reinforcements, as defenseman Andrew Ference looks to return after missing 12 games with a knee sprain. Boston may have back second-leading scorer Marco Sturm, who missed most of Monday's game after getting struck in the eye with the puck in the first period. Julien said after that game he thought Sturm would be ready Wednesday.
Defenseman Dennis Wideman has a point in seven straight games for the Bruins, who are closing a stretch of nine of 10 games on the road. They are 5-2-1 away from home during that span.