Roloson/Photo by TBL

WILMINGTON, Mass. — At 37, Bruins netminder Tim Thomas is used to being the elder statesman in most goaltender match-ups.

But that won’t be the case in the upcoming Eastern Conference final series with Tampa Bay, which relies on the puck-stopping abilities of 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson. Thomas knows that looking across at Roloson, who leads all NHL playoff goaltenders in goals-against average and save percentage, he can see what’s possible for his own career not too far down the road.

Or there’s another way to look at it.

“You could look at it that way. Or you could be like ‘man, how does he put up with this for so long?’” said Thomas today after the Bruins’ first practice in preparation for the Lightning.

Like Thomas, Roloson didn’t emerge as an NHL regular until his 30s. Roloson didn’t become a No. 1 until he was traded from Minnesota to Edmonton in 2005-06 and led the Oilers to the Stanley Cup final.

The Bruins didn’t face Roloson this year during his stints with the New York Islanders or the Lightning, but they’ve faced him plenty in other locales over the years. Head coach Claude Julien knows Roloson will present a stiff test for his shooters.

“I think he’s one of those goaltenders that seems to have gotten better with age, his experience and everything else,” said the coach. “You look back at his first years in the league and you look at him now, there’s a big difference. He’s earned him the No. 1 spot on teams he’s been with. And he wasn’t that when he was younger. Just I guess his experience and whether through goaltending coaches and that, whether he’s modified his game a little bit or done something. But one thing I do know, he’s been a pretty good goaltender in the last three, four years.”

Thomas has also gotten better with age. Part of the reason is his desire to make the most of every second he’s on the ice because he knows there’s an end of the line that’s creeping up after every season passes.

“It gives you great appreciation of the spot you’re in and how special it can be if you accomplish [your goal],” said Thomas. “There is something to the fact that early in your career you think that you’re going to get so many chances that you might not realize how much you need to take advantage of the opportunities you actually have. But as your career goes on, you really appreciate those opportunities and you really want to take advantage of them because you realize they don’t come along as often as everybody thinks.”

Roloson is in the same situation as Thomas, trying to achieve the ultimate NHL goal before the sand runs out of the hour glass. Although he doesn’t look at the match-ups as goaltender vs. goaltender, he knows he’s going to have to match Roloson in every facet of the game for the Bruins to get by the Lightning.

“He’s going to be hungry, so I have to match and hopefully be even more hungry,” said Thomas.