The 25 straight games he started while flaunting Atlas-like strength in carrying the Boston Bruins
to the Stanley Cup championship at the end of last season are an indelible part of team history.
If Tim Thomas
is going to duplicate that massive effort this season, it appears he's going to have to get used to a heavy workload a little earlier than he did before Boston's drought-snapping run to the title. Bruins No. 1A goaltender Tuukka Rask
recently went down with a groin injury that's going to sideline him for at least six weeks, and recently-signed Marty Turco
has played just 10 games in Europe this season coming off a subpar season with the Chicago Blackhawks
"To me it feels the same way as it did when me and Tuukka were going back and forth," Thomas said after appearing in his season-high seventh straight game Thursday night.
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The Bruins' schedule, which includes a huge Eastern Conference clash with Pittsburgh on Sunday at the CONSOL Energy Center (12:30 p.m., NBC, TSN), doesn't lighten up in terms of the number of games in a dwindling amount of days left between now and the April 7 regular-season finale. The Penguins game will be the second half of a back-to-back, and Boston will receive just one two-day rest over the remainder of the regular season.
That means Turco, or Boston incumbent No. 3 goaltender Anton Khudobin
when he's healthy, will get at least a couple starts. However, with Ottawa chasing in the race for the Northeast Division title, the Bruins will definitely have to lean on Thomas more in the season's final month than they would have with a healthy Rask in order to maintain their lofty perch in the Eastern Conference standings.
Bruins coach Claude Julien
doesn't have a set plan yet for his goaltending.
"I'll have to play it by ear and see how Marty is," Julien said. "At the same time, there's ways to give our goaltenders rest. And if Timmy has to miss a practice here or there, or whatever the case, not going on the ice for a day is the same as not playing a game. So you find ways. And I think we'll kind of balance all that when the time comes and make the right decisions."
That Thomas achieved so many goals -- a Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy in addition to the Cup -- at 37 years old last season was nothing short of remarkable. Now he's going to attempt to duplicate that performance with the playoff-sized workload stacking up him a month earlier than expected.
Last season, Thomas started no more than three straight games over the regular season's final three months. He and Rask had divvied up the starts this season -- 41 and 22, respectively -- before Rask's injury. Thomas has now started three games in a row to match his season-high.
When asked if he would just tab himself as the starter from here on out if he was the coach, Thomas deflected the inquiry.
"I never felt like I ever got that low on energy because of the way that me and Tuukka have been playing the games. The playing isn’t the issue, just with the travel and everything and trying to get the right sleep schedule and getting home at two o'clock in the morning is more something that I've got to focus on." -- Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas
"I'm not even going to go there. I prefer not to think in that mode," he said. "I'm a player, not a coach. I don't want to put on a coach's hat. And so I'd rather just be the guy who shows up to work and does the best job he can for his coach."
The best job Thomas could do last year produced a regular-season record for save percentage (.938) as the pre-show to Boston's postseason main event. This season, his numbers are still among the League's best with a 2.29 goals-against average and .925 save percentage, despite Boston's struggles during a 3-7-0 start to the season and a recent rut that saw the Bruins go nearly two months without winning consecutive games.
Over that span, Thomas was able to limit his losing streaks to no more than two games as well.
"I don't think it makes much of a difference. January and February are traditionally the toughest months, I'd say," he said. "If you look … we usually play real good up until the month of December and early January. And then we have this thing every year kind of deal. So maybe the fact that we're over that hump is better energy-wise.
"I never felt like I ever got that low on energy because of the way that me and Tuukka have been playing the games. The playing isn't the issue, just with the travel and everything and trying to get the right sleep
Goalie - BOS
GAA: 2.29 | SVP: 0.925
schedule and getting home at 2 o'clock in the morning is more something that I've got to focus on -- getting enough sleep more than anything that's happening on the ice."
Prior to his first Vezina-winning season of 2008-09, Thomas rededicated himself to getting in shape. He famously adopted yoga as part of his offseason regimen and was able to translate his improved conditioning to suit the unorthodox goaltending style he likes to call "battle-fly" (as opposed to the traditional butterfly).
So now, just weeks before turning 38, instead of reflecting on past accomplishments and hoping the Bruins can get him some help in Rask's absence, Thomas is ready to again solely bear the burden of Boston's attempt to repeat as champions if he has to.
"Physically," Thomas said, "I'm healthier and better than I was when I was 32, 33. So it's easier now."