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Thomas participates in first Panthers practice @NHL

Granted an opportunity to earn a way back into the NHL, Tim Thomas is embracing a fresh start with the Florida Panthers.

The 39-year-old goalie participated in his first practice Tuesday after agreeing to a professional tryout with the Panthers on Monday following a one-year sabbatical from professional hockey.

"After 14 years of pro hockey, I got tired and I needed a break," Thomas told reporters. "Now I’m energized and I'm looking forward to it. I feel great. I think this organization is right on the verge of a big turnaround and a big bounce-back. It was great to be on the ice with NHL-level talent and competing against those guys. I'm very happy the way the first day went.

"You know what really gave me the itch? Watching the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs."

Thomas' preference is to be a No. 1 goalie, but 23-year-old Jacob Markstrom is projected to begin the 2013-14 season as the Panthers starter. Incumbent reserve Scott Clemmensen is sidelined after having minor knee surgery.

"I definitely came here to play hockey, no doubt about that," Thomas said. "But within a team spectrum ... I never competed against the other goalie on my team. If that's the way people want to frame it and it's a competition between goalies ... that's not the way I looked at it. I'm competing against myself and if I play the best that I can, then I'm going to get the results that I want and the playing time that I want.

"I think that's why I've had such successful relationships with the other goalies on my teams in the past. That way, we're pulling for each other and we're only thinking about the best we can be as individuals rather than competing within a team framework. We're on the same team and we have the same goals."

Thomas is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, and in 378 NHL games owns a career save percentage of .921 with a 2.48 goals-against average. He won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011 after shutting out the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the Final. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, and his 798 saves, including 238 in the Stanley Cup Final, set NHL postseason records.

"My time in Boston was great," Thomas said. "I'm very fortunate to have had the type of personal and team success that I had there. Great teammates, great area."

In 2011-12, his last full NHL season, Thomas went 35-19-1 with a .920 save percentage with the Bruins. If he earns a roster spot with the Panthers, he may get a chance to enjoy a homecoming when Florida visits Boston on Nov. 7.

"Nothing can replace experience," Thomas said.

Thomas will not play in the Panthers' upcoming preseason games against the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coach Kevin Dineen plans to give him eight or nine days to get going before inserting him into live game action.

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