TAMPA, Fla. – Tim Thomas doesn't look like much of a fighter.
The Bruins goalie isn't ripped like many of his teammates. His 5-foot-11, 201-pound frame certainly does not strike fear into anybody -- and let's not even talk about his regular-season dust-up with Montreal's Carey Price, which turned out to be more square dance than slugfest.
But there is something that is deadly afraid of Thomas. And that something is a vulcanized piece of rubber heading toward the net Thomas is guarding.
More than nine times out of 10 -- .927 in 13 postseason games, to be exact -- Thomas will find a way to deny that puck its mission.
It isn't always pretty. No, when Thomas is fighting off pucks he often looks more back-yard brawler than prize fighter. But in a fight, the only thing that matters is who's left standing when the hostilities finish.
Tuesday night, in a wild night at TD Garden in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Thomas was the one left standing – bloodied as he may have been -- when the final horn sounded on Boston's 6-5 victory against Tampa Bay. Dwayne Roloson, his counterpart in the other net, didn't even finish the game, pulled after allowing six goals in two periods.
Now Thomas has reaffirmed Boston's unwavering faith in the goalie who had a regular season for the ages as this Eastern Conference Final now becomes a best-of-5 affair.
"I mean he's playing unbelievable," Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. "He battles, he stops, I don't know how many breakaways he stopped. And it's good to have him back there. I mean we definitely don't complain."
Thomas was even battling when Tampa did score. Dominic Moore made it a one-goal game with less than seven minutes remaining when he scored a controversial goal, poking home a loose puck in a goal-mouth scramble while Thomas thrashed about in his crease with his goalie mask dislodged.
When it was over, after a video review, the goal counted – as it should by the letter of the NHL law – and Thomas was bleeding from above his eye.
"I have been told the puck went off my head, but I didn't even realize it," Thomas said. "At that point I was trying to find it, I think."
He didn't have much time to reflect, either.
Surprisingly, Thomas had to do some of his best work of his 36-save night well after rookie Tyler Seguin and veteran Michael Ryder had seemingly blown the game open. That dynamic duo – ostensibly Boston's third line – had combined for four of Boston's five-second period goals to give the home side a comfortable 6-3 lead.
However, somebody forgot to tell the Lightning that and, as a result, Thomas had to be at his best while the rest of his team got caught with their feet off the proverbial gas pedal.
Actually, Thomas started the show that almost stole Seguin's spotlight in the second period when he stopped Ryan Malone on a breakaway. On the play, it appeared Malone had fooled Thomas with a fake slapper, but the goalie somehow was able to sprawl and deny the deke that followed.
"I was determined at that point to not let them score," Thomas said. "I did have time to realize that it was Malone. He wound up for a fake slap shot, but I had to be on my toes because I saw him beat (Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre) Fleury with it. But he didn't take it and when he got in on me I was just trying to stay with him and get any piece of my body I could on the puck."
But Thomas was just getting warmed up for a stunning third period, it seemed.
"(In the) second period he made some big saves and the third, too," Bruins forward Mark Recchi said. "He had some big saves. He had a big one on (Vinny) Lecavalier there. That was huge. On (Marc-Andre) Bergeron, too. He's a competitive guy and he's done that all year for us."
Ah, the Lecavalier save and the Bergeron save -- just part of a closing flurry that saw Thomas make five quality saves in the game's final five minutes. All that did was save Boston from facing the indignity of blowing a three-goal lead in the third. At the time, Thomas seemed to be the only player holding Boston's delicate psyche together.
"Experience helps in those situations," Thomas said. "Experience helps you to learn that, each time a goal goes in, you've just got to put it behind you. You've got to start focusing on the next one. If you start thinking about the goals that just went in, it's going to lead to other goals, and it's not going to be helpful.
"When it gets 6-4 and 6-5, when you're a younger goaltender, it might be hard for you to keep your focus. But I've been through enough situations similar to that. I was just trying to keep my focus, and when it got 6-5, do everything I possibly could to keep it from becoming 6-6."
"I have been told the puck went off my head, but I didn't even realize it. At that point I was trying to find it, I think." -- Tim Thomas
He did that by making a deft toe save after Lecavalier, who already had 4 points on the night, beat three defenders and then played give-and-go with Martin St. Louis before firing a low tester. Then, a bit later, Bergeron pounced on a juicy rebound and snapped off a shot targeted for the top shelf. That is, until Thomas somehow got his chest on the shot, causing the Tampa Bay defenseman to throw his stick in the air – part in disbelief and part in frustration.
"He's unbelievable," Boston's David Krejci said. "I know there were five goals (Tuesday), but some were lucky. He made some stops in the second period on some breakaways, so without him I don't know what would happen."