Tim Thomas says the Boston Bruins are fighting to get back into the playoff race. Thanks to him, they just about are.
Thomas and the Bruins looks to continue their strong play and beat the Tampa Bay Lightning for the third time this season Thursday when the teams meet at TD Banknorth Garden.
After splitting time with Hannu Toivonen early in the season, there's no doubt Thomas is now the Bruins' No. 1 goaltender, and he's playing like he plans on keeping the job.
Thomas made a season-high 45 saves, and three different players scored Tuesday when Boston (11-9-2) completed a two-game sweep in Toronto with a 4-1 victory.
Thomas, who made 27 saves in a 3-1 win Saturday over the Maple Leafs, improved to 7-2 in his past nine starts.
"We're fighting to get back into the race," Thomas said. "We had a meeting this morning and Coach said this was the closet thing we've had to a playoff game. To get to the playoffs, we have to beat teams like the Maple Leafs. He basically challenged us."
Although the Bruins are still last in the Northeast Division with 24 points, winning seven of nine has moved them within three points of Tampa Bay, which is currently eighth in the Eastern Conference.
"We're trying to climb the standings," said right wing Glen Murray, who scored his team-high 12th goal Tuesday. "Every win is huge for us. We got behind the 8-ball early in the season."
Another factor during Boston's resurgence has been the steady play of defenseman Brad Stuart, who recently missed five games with a broken finger and sustained a foot injury his first game back Nov. 9 against Toronto.
The Bruins are 7-2 since Stuart returned to the lineup as his presence has helped ease some of the burden on top defenseman Zdeno Chara, who logs a league-high 29:32 minutes of ice time per game.
"The thing that's impressed me the most is his competition level - how hard he competes," Bruins coach Dave Lewis said. "If you watched him with his hand and his foot, he was performing and shaking off all of that. And he was playing at a high, intense, physical level. That was really impressive to me."
The Lightning's three-game win streak came to a halt Tuesday with a 5-2 loss to Olaf Kolzig and the Washington Capitals.
Tampa Bay (13-11-1) could only get two of its season-high 50 shots - the second-most in franchise history - past Kolzig, who stopped all 25 over the first two periods and 23 of 25 in the third.
"We had a good first and had a good third," Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis said. "We seem to have one period that kills us. When you miss chances in the first period, and they get a break, it's tough. We've got to find a way to capitalize."
While Kolzig was on top of his game, Lightning counterpart Johan Holmqvist was replaced by Mark Denis in the second period after yielding three goals on 13 shots. Holmqvist had won eight of his previous nine decisions.
The Lightning have a pair of one-goal losses to the Bruins this season and are 1-5-1 in the past seven meetings.