Commentary

Bruins focused on task at hand

Not distracted by return of Tim Thomas, they're playing best hockey of season

Updated: January 29, 2014, 1:20 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Tim Thomas' return to face his former team nearly overshadowed the fact the Boston Bruins have been playing their best hockey of the season for the past six games, and that continued Tuesday night with a 6-2 win over the Florida Panthers.

It was Thomas' first game in Boston since leaving the Bruins organization after the 2011-12 season for a self-imposed hiatus from the game. Thomas wasn't sharp as Boston dominated for the majority of the game. The Bruins pressured Thomas from start to finish, to the point that he showed his frustration in the closing seconds of the game by high sticking the Bruins' Carl Soderberg when Soderberg crashed the net going for a rebound.

[+] EnlargeBoston Bruins celebrate
Steve Babineau/Getty ImagesThe Bruins celebrate one of their six goals against Tim Thomas in Thomas's return to Boston.

After the loss, Thomas was asked if it was fun returning to Boston to finally face his former teammates.

"Well, no," he said. "I think I might have enjoyed myself watching the State of the Union more. No, probably not."

That comment was in jest, referencing his decision to skip the Bruins' trip to the White House to celebrate their 2011 Stanley Cup championship in January 2012.

With Thomas' departure after Tuesday's loss, the hockey world can move on from his saga. He was a great goaltender during his tenure with the Bruins, helping them win the Cup, while collecting two Vezina Trophies and a Conn Smythe.

Now everyone can focus on how well the Bruins are playing. Thomas witnessed first-hand that once again Boston is a lethal team.

"They're a good team," he said. "They made the finals last year for a reason and they played a good game against us tonight, combined with us not playing our best game, myself included. They took advantage of it. They just kept coming at us. They rarely let up. When they did, we scored a couple of goals and then they turned it back up."

The Bruins have had it turned on since a 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars on Jan. 16. They are 5-0-1 in their past six games and 6-1-1 in the past eight. Each line is contributing and the top two trios have been producing at an insane clip.

Top-line center David Krejci had a goal and two assists against the Panthers and has nine points in the past six games. Linemate Milan Lucic had a pair of goals and has four points in the past three games. Reilly Smith, Zdeno Chara and Shawn Thornton also scored for the Bruins Tuesday night.

"Everyone's going. We haven't had any passengers, from the goalie on out," Thornton said. "There's obviously been a few stretches here, five or 10 minutes where we get away from it a little bit, but we regroup pretty quickly and get back to playing our style of game, and that's helped us have success."

During the Bruins' recent stretch of success, their only loss -- 3-2 in a shootout -- came against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 19 at the United Center. Prior to that game in Dallas, Bruins coach Claude Julien addressed the team and stressed the importance of finishing strong prior to the upcoming Olympic break, and the Bruins have responded with a strong overall effort.

"Solid," Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said. "From the Dallas game on, we've been pretty consistent. We've lost one point out of those games since Dallas and it's been going in the right direction. Today, we got that 4-0 lead and let loose a little bit, but we regained our momentum in the third and got the nice win."

Boston has scored a total of 18 goals in the past three games against the Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Islanders and the Florida Panthers. The Bruins last scored 18 goals in a three-game span from Jan. 4 to Jan. 7, 2012, against New Jersey, Calgary and Vancouver.

"It feels good," Krejci said. "It's been a while since you've seen us score a few goals a game like this. All four lines are chipping in and the whole team is feeling comfortable. Hopefully we don't get too high or too low and stay even keeled."

During his 22-game absence with a broken fibula, forward Chris Kelly has been watching his team from media level during home games, and on television when the Bruins have been on the road. He has been impressed with the way the team has been playing, but to see it up close and to be able to contribute was completely different.

"They've been playing extremely well," Kelly said. "For one, the work ethic has been there and that's a big key to success right now. We're going out there and working hard. Every line is playing well and contributing. It's good to see."

Even after Boston's victory Tuesday night, there was a media horde around Thomas. In the Bruins' locker room, his former teammates again praised his accomplishments while he was here.

"You can't take anything away from the success he had here, how hard he competed and the type of teammate he was," Lucic said. "He battled as a goaltender for the Bruins every night, so it did mean more playing him the first time in Boston over playing him in Florida. He's still a great goaltender and we just wanted to play our game and come out on top like we did."

The Bruins scored often on their former teammate, but more importantly Boston earned the two points and now can focus on the Montreal Canadiens coming to town on Thursday.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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