Thomas/By S. Bradley

BOSTON – The night started with Tim Thomas stoning New Jersey sniper Patrik Elias and rookie Mattias Tedenby in rapid succession just one minute into the contest.

It finished with Thomas needing to make 14 saves in the third period to preserve his fourth shutout of the season.

In between, Thomas could’ve practically taken his mask off and waved to the crowd, as it was an evening that was both one of Thomas’ easiest and busiest over the course of 60 minutes of a 3-0 win over the Devils at TD Garden.

“I’m just thankful, because in an 82-game season, you know …” said Thomas about the overall lessened workload than he has had of late.

The Bruins as a team owed Thomas this relative vacation. In his last two games, a win and a loss, Thomas faced 46 and 33 shots, respectively. Even in front of Tuukka Rask, Boston has been letting up close to 40 shots a night. Even with possibly the best goaltending tandem in the league wearing black and gold, that’s no way to keep them both healthy over the course of a seven-month NHL season.

Thomas said he approached this game as “must-win” even though it’s just October and the opposition was a team that already seems ticketed for the lottery. The Bruins have struggled of late, especially at home, where they had lost three in a row. An early Devils goal, however, could’ve given the visitors a confidence boost and soured the festive atmosphere of Military Appreciation Night.

Maybe the game turned on the save Thomas initially made on Elias after the winger carried the puck into the Boston end and then dragged it across the slot before wristing one from the bottom of the right circle. Or perhaps it was the second save on Tedenby, who couldn’t get his rebound past Thomas despite the goaltender having his back turned.

“Backwards butterfly?” said Thomas with a laugh. “Yeah, I practice that in practice sometimes. I could see it. I could see what he was doing with it, so … it’s not too often I give myself a pat on the back for a save, and I do on that one. It felt good to do something in a game that I do quite regularly in practice.”

Although the workload wasn’t heavy through 40 minutes, Thomas said he didn’t change anything about his approach. That paid off in the third period, when the ice was slightly tilted in New Jersey’s favor. The shots were still mostly coming from the outside and from less dangerous areas of the zone, which meant less fancy maneuvers, belly flops and “backwards butterflies” by the veteran puck-stopper.

“Yeah it’s a similar feeling to how I felt against Washington, probably early this year was the closest that I kind of felt like that,” said Thomas. “I just felt like they weren’t going to find a way to score.”

Shutting out Ottawa and Phoenix with 29 saves earlier this season was probably a more difficult accomplishment than extinguishing all 28 shots from a Devils team that’s dead last in the NHL in goals per game. But shot totals can be misleading. Some goaltenders prefer the more work they get because they can stay sharper and in the flow of the game. Some have a knack for staying focused enough to make that one key save on a night that sees them seldom tested.

Thomas says he doesn’t fit into any category.

“I take it as it comes,” he said. “I don’t control how many shots I’m going to get against me, so I don’t really put too much thought into what I want for the night. I just want to win. And if I do get shots, I want them to be as least dangerous as possible.”

Thomas had the best of both worlds tonight with fewer shots for most of the game and then a couple flurries, with the shots coming mostly from non-scoring areas. It was about time the Bruins rewarded Thomas for all the times he has bailed them out with a calmer night. And he proved once again his ability to adapt to any situation.