MacMullan: The look of champions

March, 20, 2012
3/20/12
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BOSTON -- The plan was to check out the mental state of Tim Thomas at the Garden on Monday night before he and his Boston Bruins teammates departed for a quick yet grueling West Coast swing later this week.

Never mind.

It was the wrong game for that. You can't glean much from a goaltender's psyche when his most daunting task in hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs is warding off boredom. That tends to be the challenge when your team has as many goals as your opponent has shots -- that would be seven -- after two periods.

Thus Thomas' fifth shutout of the season, an 8-0 beatdown, was not particularly memorable.

[+] EnlargeTim Thomas
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonTim Thomas didn't have to work hard for his fifth shutout, but he's satisfied his malaise is behind him.
Or was it?

"I feel like something's turned," Thomas declared. "It's a good feeling. Even before the game tonight I felt that way. I could just feel it in the locker room.''

If, in fact, Thomas has worked his way out of his recent malaise, that would be headline news. The Bruins' binky in pads, the hard-luck Tuukka Rask, is sidelined indefinitely with a groin injury, so having Thomas in a slump conjured up all sorts of dire scenarios.

During Boston's Stanley Cup run last season, Rask was wonderful insurance, but the Bruins never needed to cash in on the policy, riding Thomas, the Conn Smythe MVP, from pillar to post.

None of us can be sure if it has been fatigue, age, his Facebook musings or the state of our economy that has accounted for Thomas' subpar play of late, but he and his teammates understand -- particularly with Rask eliminated from the equation -- that defending the Cup will be a fruitless endeavor without at least some semblence of the superb goaltending that stoned the Canadiens, Flyers, Lightning and Canucks last spring in the second season.

"When you're feeling good and feeling confident, you're glad to be in that position," Thomas said. "That's part of the reason I picked goaltending in the first place. It's an important position in the outcome of the game. That can be a blessing and a curse, depending on how things are going.''

The recent lethargic starts of the Bruins and Thomas have been well documented. Before Saturday's spirited win over the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston had given up the first goal in seven of its previous eight games. Their record when the other guys strike first (11-20-6) suggested it was a trend that needed to be rectified.

So here's a novel way to turn the tide on that: Don't let the other guys get a shot off.

Seriously.

CLICK HERE for Jackie MacMullan's complete column.

Jackie MacMullan

ESPNBoston.com columnist

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