Bruins’ Thomas undaunted, thrives in the face of Flyers’ net-crashing

Thomas/By S. Bradley

PHILADELPHIA – The Flyers like to use their size and strength to not only get to the net but sometimes go into and through the crease.

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas saw some of that in his team’s 7-3 rout in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series with Philadelphia yesterday.

“It was just a normal game, it felt like to me,” he said today after the team practiced at the Wells Fargo Center, which will host tomorrow night’s Game 2. “I know they’re trying but that’s a comfortable type of game for me.”

There was one goaltender interference penalty called, on rookie Zac Rinaldo, against the Flyers. Another time forward James van Riemsdyk plowed over Thomas at the end of a failed breakaway. Thomas was hardly thrown off his game en route to a 31-save victory.

The Flyers will undoubtedly try to do even more to get in the likely Vezina Trophy winner’s face in the second game of this series.

Whether that will be to their benefit remains to be seen.

Thomas is by nature a rambunctious athlete that thrives on emotion and activity. It’s the teams that sit back and don’t go at Thomas as much that make him feel like he’s waiting in a tree for a black bear and not in a highly important hockey game. To Thomas, that’s why he had some struggles early in the Bruins’ first-round series with Montreal.

“Those first couple games, the goals they got were good goals. And then they just sat back and played that trap,” he said. “So I don’t think that helped me to get comfortable. We needed to play a different type of game where we were in the game from the beginning and then push them. And that kept me in the game because they kept pushing. Those first couple games, they got their goals and they went into that trap and the chances were kind of few and far between.”

When you’ve had the type of season Thomas has enjoyed in 2010-11 – complete with the single-season record for save percentage – you figure you can stop any shot so you might as well see a ton of them. The Flyers figure to test that theory, as their structure is designed to claim the net area as their turf and force the opposing goaltender to take on shots, sticks and bodies.

“They’re a team that really likes to play around the net area, from behind the net, and then they have two guys on each side or somewhere around the net-front area,” Bruins coach Claude Julien explained today. “When they’ve got the puck behind the net, they don’t really have that third man high that a lot of teams do. They like to crash the net, so that’s a little different than what we saw from Montreal or other teams.”

Where some goaltenders see screens and bothersome traffic, Thomas sees a challenge he relishes. Over the years we’ve seen him overcome big hits and even retaliate when necessary. At least a couple liberty-taking forwards have landed on their rear ends thanks to a Thomas shove or shove over his numerous years in Boston.

The Flyers will come out desperate tomorrow and will play with an effort twice or three times as great as the one that produced their disappointing defeat in Game 1. That’s going to include hitting anyone that moves, even the goaltender. But unlike some masked men in the NHL, Thomas won’t be looking to the referees or to his teammates to save him. He’ll meet the challenge.

Philadelphia might be wiser to lull Thomas into a false sense of security rather than rattle his cage.

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