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Facing Thomas a different animal for Flyers

by Mike G. Morreale
VOORHEES, N.J. -- Veteran defenseman Chris Pronger believes there's always a few subtle surprises every playoff season.
When the Philadelphia Flyers square off against the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal beginning Saturday at Wells Fargo Center (3 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS), Pronger knows there's going to be a pretty significant change in the opposing net.
That would be 2011 Vezina Trophy nominee Tim Thomas.
"Obviously, the biggest difference is going to be between the pipes," Pronger said. "Last year, we faced (Tuukka) Rask. This year, (Tim) Thomas. It's a completely different element in that atmosphere."
Call Thomas what you want -- unorthodox, acrobatic or over-the-hill. One thing's for sure, he's certainly been a brick wall for the Bruins in 2010-11.
One season removed from earning his first Vezina Trophy as the League's top goalie in 2008-09, Thomas rode the bench last spring as Rask led the Bruins to within one win of the Eastern Conference Finals -- coming up short against the Flyers in seven games.
Thomas would undergo hip surgery last May to repair a torn labrum, which ultimately forced him to adopt a one-legged butterfly style. This year, not only did the 37-year-old Thomas return with a vengeance, posting a scintillating 35-11-9 record, 2.00 goals-against average, .938 save percentage and 9 shutouts in 57 games for the Bruins, but he competed in the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater competition during All-Star Weekend in Raleigh, N.C.
The zone he was in during the regular season has carried over into the postseason as well. In Boston's seven-game series triumph over the Montreal Canadiens, Thomas sported a 2.25 GAA and. 926 save percentage. During his first Stanley Cup playoff experience last season, Rask finished 7-6 with a 2.61 GAA and .912 save percentage in 13 starts for the Bruins.
The Flyers are well aware of Thomas and his ability to steal a few games in this series.
"It's a completely different style goalie that we played in the first round (Buffalo's Ryan Miller)," forward Danny Briere said. "Miller is big and always in good position; it is what it is with Ryan Miller.
"Thomas is a smaller guy and never stops competing on any puck. He can be all over the place. Also, he's tough to read because you don't know what he's going to do. He's skillful, so it's a completely different style that we had to face in the first round."
Thomas' record-setting bounce back season included the highest save percentage (.938) in NHL history, eclipsing Dominik Hasek's .937 with Buffalo in 1998-99 as the best since the statistic was introduced in 1976-77.
"He's a competitor," Briere said. "He gets fired up. I'm not a goalie coach (so) I don't know if it's good or bad, but he is very animated and doesn't like to be scored on."
Thomas won his first eight decisions this season, breaking the club record set by Tiny Thompson in 1937-38, and won his first nine road games to become the first NHL goalie to do so since Chicago's Glenn Hall in 1965-66. He also led all goalies in goals-against average and ranked second in shutouts.
"He's a great goaltender and is a little bit unorthodox," Flyers captain Mike Richards said. "It's tough to watch video on him and try to see some of his tendencies, but we're going to do the same thing this series as we did against Ryan Miller last series. We're going to try to get the puck to the net as much as possible and try to get tips and deflections. We're going to shoot to score, because at any point he can come flying across.
"Until that puck crosses the line, Tim is going to battle."
He also knows that Thomas wears his heart on his sleeve and has a tendency to become overly emotional and animated.
"He gets emotional and he gets mad," Richards said. "He's a competitor and that's obviously something you want in a goaltender and a hockey player. He's going to do everything he can to keep it out, no matter how out of position he gets or what he tries to do. We can't take anything for granted; when we get an opportunity, we're going to try and get it through the net."
One player hoping to make life miserable for Thomas will be Flyers agitator Daniel Carcillo.
"It seems like when he gets into the game more, he plays even better so there's a fine line you have to walk," Carcillo said. "I'll go to the net hard, be around the net and stop right in his face any time I can. And I'll be there for rebounds and the hard goals. That's what I do."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette knows his team has its work cut out for them in search of ways to generate good chances against Thomas.
"You don't get to the playoffs and you certainly don't get to the second round without good goaltending," Laviolette said. "He has had a good year for them, he's a competitive guy. I think any time you're facing a good goaltender in net, it presents some challenges for your offense."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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