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Panthers' Thomas enjoys first game back in NHL

by Staff /

Tim Thomas is back in the NHL.

Thomas played the first half of the Florida Panthers' preseason game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Estero, Fla., on Thursday, a few hours after agreeing to a one-year contract with the team.

The 39-year-old allowed one goal on 10 shots in his first action since April 2012 before being replaced by Jacob Markstrom in a game the Panthers lost 3-2 in overtime.

"It felt good for being the first time in a game-like atmosphere for 15 months," Thomas told the Miami Herald. "I think it was a necessary step for me. I thought it was good not to wait. We're running out of preseason games. I feel ready now."

TSN's Bob McKenzie reported that Thomas will earn a base salary of $2.5 million, but the contract will carry an average annual value of $3.75 million because of performance and games-played bonuses.

Thomas had been in Florida's training camp after signing a professional tryout agreement, but hadn't played in a preseason game prior to Thursday. He is returning to the NHL after sitting out the 2012-13 season.

Thomas has made all 378 of his NHL appearances with the Boston Bruins, going 196-121-45 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. He's played in four NHL All-Star Games, won a pair of Vezina trophies (2009, 2011), and backstopped the Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy that season, and joined Hall of Famer Bernie Parent as the only goaltender to win the Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup in the same season.

"I think this is exciting," Panthers goalie coach Robb Tallas told the Miami Herald. "… He makes big saves at the right time. The players here are excited about that."

Beyond his resume, the Panthers hope Thomas can serve as a role model to the team's younger players.

"He battles on every shot, every drill," general manager Dale Tallon said. "This is great for our team, great for him and great for our goalies."

The Panthers will start the season with Thomas and Jacob Markstrom competing for playing time. Markstrom, 23, went 8-14-1 with a 3.22 GAA and .901 save percentage in 23 games last season; the 2008 second-round pick (No. 31) is considered the franchise's goalie of the future, but that future could be put on hold for some time.

Scott Clemmensen also is on the roster, but still recovering from a knee injury sustained during training camp.

When healthy Clemmensen will go through a conditioning stint in the American Hockey League, but at some point the Panthers are going to have to pick two goalies to keep in Florida. However, Tallon said it will be an open competition, with the best pair sticking.

"We want the best goalies," Tallon said. "Inner competition is great for the success of a team. Let them battle it out."

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