Thomas unmasked/By S. Bradley

BOSTON — The difference between a tied game and a two-goal Bruins lead was as miniscule as could be in tonight’s second period.

With the Bruins up, 3-2, goaltender Tim Thomas stopped a Ryan Malone breakaway by not falling for a faked slapper and holding his ground against a backhander. Seconds later, Tyler Seguin went down on a 2-on-1 and scored his second goal of the night.

The Lightning never caught the Bruins the rest of the night in a wild, 6-5, Boston victory in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final at the TD Garden.

While it’s hard to focus too much on a save in a game featuring 11 goals, that play might’ve turned the game in Boston’s favor.

“He got the pass up the middle,” explained Thomas about Malone after he finished the night with 36 saves. “I mean, basically, I saw a guy coming in on a breakaway with the puck. I was determined at that point to not let them score. 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.”

While plenty of pucks passed Thomas, he racked up even more amazing saves on a night the Bruins’ defense corps was skating in quick sand. He stopped Vinny Lecavalier point-blank in the third period and snuffed out 1-on-1 chances by Nate Thompson and Martin St. Louis as well over the course of the night.

One puck he didn’t stop was stuffed in by Dominic Moore to cut the lead to 6-5 with 6:45 left in regulation. Moments before, Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid collided with Thomas and knocked the goaltender’s mask off. The officials counted the goal, despite the rule that says play stops when a goaltender is mask-less.

“Well they gave me the right explanation,” said head coach Claude Julien. “You are supposed to blow the whistle when the goalie’s mask comes off but if they are in the scoring position the referees have the discretion to let it go. And they felt they were in the scoring position and so they didn’t blow the whistle. For me it was understanding it, because when you look back at the replay the helmet is off for a while. And I was hoping they would have blown it earlier, but it was the right call.”

Thomas probably has nightmares about losing 11-goal games. This one turned out to be a dream come true, as it evened the series at one game apiece. It’s games like this that make Thomas glad he’s been through the battles over the last several years.

“I think experience helps in those situations. Just this year we were in a few games, I think we beat Philly, 7-5, or something like that, and we had a similar game against Montreal,” said Thomas. “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.

“With our big second period there, I knew we had a big lead going into the third period, and the plan wasn’t to let them get close at all. But 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.”

He kept it 6-5. And he kept his mask on the rest of the night as well.