Now the Bruins know what teams have been dealing with against Tim Thomas all season long.
Boston produced its best 60-minute effort through three games of its current road trip, and one of its best four-line performances (or at least 3 2/3 lines) of the season, but still wound up on the short end of a 3-2 score after losing a shootout tonight in Atlanta.
Every Bruins line tonight played every shift at full intensity from the first drop of the puck until the final horn of overtime. The only thing that denied the trio of Tyler Seguin, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton a better outing was head coach Claude Julien’s decision to give them just one shift in the third period. However, that didn’t hold back the league leader in third-period goal differential this season, as Boston again turned it on in the final stanza — outshooting Atlanta 18-7 with the game tied at 2.
There was one man, though, waiting to stop Boston’s offerings every time, and his name was Ondrej Pavelec. If Thomas, who leads the league in goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts, is the odd-on early-season favorite for the Vezina Trophy, then Pavelec is probably the Dean Martin to Thomas’ Frank Sinatra. On this night, however, Martin upstaged the Chairman of the Board.
Every Bruins skater seemingly had at least one chance to beat Pavelec over the course of 60 minutes. Even struggling forwards Marc Savard and Nathan Horton, who were both benched for a chunk of the third period of Tuesday night’s win at Tampa, seemed to have extra jump in their steps. Savard finished with four shots on goal, while Horton was credited with one (one more than he had against the Lightning). That pair of high-priced stars combined with linemate Milan Lucic to create opportunities and, maybe more important, forecheck with abandon for three periods. The rest of the lines followed suit.
On a night when his defense wasn’t much match for the Bruins attack in his team’s own zone, Pavelec was ready for anything. Blake Wheeler, who scored one of Boston’s two goals, fired five shots on goal and five other Bruins who didn’t score were credited with four shots on net.
Michael Ryder, in particular, was robbed of a historic night by Pavelec. The oft-criticized winger was slippery as a lizard with the puck all night and got off some bids that most nights would’ve moved the mesh and maybe even earned him a hat trick. But not against the Thrashers’ upstart goaltender. Ryder’s best bid came with three minutes to go in the second period on a snap shot from the high slot. Pavelec denied the goal with just a wave of his glove. The Atlanta netminder carried that momentum into the third period, including five saves during a Boston power play early in the last session. He sealed the night with a stop out of the crease on Seguin and then a routine save, after Wheeler lost the puck, in the shootout.
The Bruins might’ve left Philips Arena shaking their heads over Pavelec, but they should also have been holding their noses in the air. They’ve picked up five of six points on a post-Christmas road trip that could’ve turned disastrous had they emerged from the holiday at anything less than full speed.
More often than not this season, the Bruins have credited the bulk of their ability to win to the mastery of Tim Thomas in net. Tonight, they need feel no shame in accepting that Ondrej Pavelec withstood their best punch … again and again.