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Thomas closer to cementing Boston status with stone-wall show

by | CBSSports.com
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BOSTON -- Tim Thomas might be a little less forthright next time.

If he would have kept quiet, the Boston Bruins goalie might be closer to Bill Russell, Bobby Orr and Ted Williams in this town. Imagine if Thomas actually promised what he delivered here Monday night: a Game 5 victory via a 33-save effort in a 3-1 decision over the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden that put the Bruins a game way from the their first Stanley Cup Finals in 21 years.

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"There was no guarantee," said Thomas, who added he was asked how he visualized the series going by a reporter. "Because it was blown out of proportion, yeah there was a little bit more pressure, but I tried to ignore it as best as I could. What matters is what you do on the ice, not the other stuff."

Maybe he is reaching legendary status then. Thomas was hardly unnerved by Simon Gagne's goal via a 2-on-1 break a minute into regulation. In fact, Thomas said it might have settled him down.

"In a funny way to start to relax a little bit," Thomas said. "I don't know how it works, but it kind of works that way for me. I don't want to let in an early goal, obviously, but I've had experience with it in the past and for some reason, sometimes it can relax me and that's kind of the effect it had tonight."

The tally came on the first shot in the game and Thomas was perfect the rest of the way, even if it wasn't always pretty. Thomas flopped around every which way as the Lightning held the puck in all but 10 seconds during a first-period power play. The Lightning could get only one shot through to Thomas as Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid blocked shots, but Thomas battled for position in the blue crease with his usual abandon.

"We had them hemmed in," Lightning forward Ryan Malone said. "That would have been nice to get one there. You have to tip the hat to those guys not letting the puck cross the line."

Thomas endured four Tampa Bay power plays -- although those produced only four shots -- and the Lightning had their chances in the third, including one in which he blocked a Blair Jones shot, which deflected off the post, early in the third period. But no save was better than what was produced by a slap shot from the point by Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer.

Brewer's shot ricocheted off the boards and over to forward Steve Downie, who was a game-time decision after he absorbed a hit in Game 4. Downie had an empty net, minus an outstretched stick from Thomas that was able to deflect the shot wide.

"With the way the new boards are nowadays in all the arenas, you [have] got to be on your toes with the big bounces and the big bounce came out," Thomas said. "You know, it was just a reaction and a desperation [move]. I'll admit I got a little bit lucky there."

A minute later, Downie took a boarding penalty.

"It was the momentum changer and that's what turned I think the game around," Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said. "Having that save made a huge difference."

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher went with Mike Smith in net over veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson. It was Smith's first career playoff start and he didn't see a whole lot of action, especially early when he went 14 minutes between shots in the first period.

"It was definitely strange, especially in the playoffs not getting shots for that long," Smith said. "But you have to try and relax with your end, or when the puck is in their end and when it comes down, to try and stay focused."

Things were busier in the second period as Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand scored to put the Bruins up 2-1. The last marker came on an empty-net goal by Rich Peverley. Smith made 17 saves on 19 shots and there was no clear indication afterward which goalie will get the start in Game 6 on Wednesday.

"With their goaltender, we're not frustrated," Boucher said of Thomas. "We're expecting that. He's done it all year. He's done it in the playoffs. And if you don't expect that, it's because you got the wrong expectations."

There may not be any designers set to immortalize Thomas with a statue just yet, like the one of Orr outside the arena. If he brings the Bruins the first Stanley Cup since 1972, that could change. Maybe.

Right now, he would probably settle for comparisons to Andy Moog, the last goalie to lead the Bruins to the Finals in 1990.

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