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Thomas ready to build on last season

BOSTON -- This past offseason was completely different than any other during the career of Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas.

The 37-year-old netminder was so busy enjoying the benefits that come with being a Stanley Cup champion that he really didn't have time to focus on his accomplishments from the 2010-11 season. He became only the second goaltender in history to win the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe and Vezina trophies in the same season, joining Philadelphia's Bernie Parent.

Thomas also produced an historic goaltending performance last season. He led the league with a 2.00 goals-against average. His .938 save percentage was the highest since the NHL began keeping the statistic in 1976-77. He also finished second in the league with a career-best nine shutouts.

He's ready for a repeat performance.

Thomas has always been the type of player who's wanted to improve on the previous season and build off it. But when he's coming off such a successful season, how can a player improve on that?

"That's the challenge, right?" Thomas said. "You've just got to find a way."

If there's one goaltender who could actually pull that off, Thomas is that guy.

Thomas and Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron have been longtime teammates, so it's no surprise Bergeron is expecting another great season from the masked man.

"I don't think Timmy is the type of guy to sit on what he's accomplished," Bergeron said. "That's not who he is. He's the type of guy who wants more and wants to show more to other people that he can be better and last year wasn't a fluke. From what he's been through his whole career to last year, I think he showed us his character and the way he is. He's a competitor and I'm never surprised with Timmy and the things he brings each and every year."

Once the Bruins returned home from Vancouver on June 16 with Lord Stanley's Cup in tow, Thomas and the rest of his teammates were poised to embark on a summer-long celebration. They all had to balance enjoying their accomplishments along with preparing to defend the title.

Thomas played in 82 games last season, including playoffs, but fortunately when he arrived at camp in September, he was healthy and ready to go. Physically, emotionally and mentally he's in a good spot.

"Pretty good, actually," he said. "I didn't carry any injuries into the summer, so that was helpful and I'm coming in without any injuries. Physically it's been good and I'll be rested up for Thursday."

On Thursday, the Bruins open the 2011-12 season by hosting the Philadelphia Flyers and hoisting their Stanley Cup banner to the rafters of the Garden. Thomas will be in net and, probably for the first time during his career in Boston, he enters the season as the No. 1 guy.

While Thomas probably deserves to open the season as the top goalie, Bruins coach Claude Julien refers to both Thomas and Tuukka Rask as No. 1 goalies. For his part, Thomas says he doesn't believe his role will change this season.

"No," he said. "I don't really feel like that this year. I just feel normal. There are two goalies on a team and we don't think of ourselves in terms of No. 1 and No. 2. I guess it's traditional talk, but in today's NHL it's different. We're just two goalies and teammates, but of course both of us want to play.

"I'll shoot for the same thing and that's all you can do. It'll evolve as the season goes on, to a certain extent."

Julien recently explained that his philosophy on goaltending won't change despite Thomas' accomplishments.

"Well, I think a lot of it is just like last year. We started off with two guys that we called No. 1 goaltenders and they're still, in my mind, No. 1 caliber goaltenders," Julien said. "But as you saw, Timmy just took off and, you know, you have to ride the hot hand. And the same thing happens this year: We've got two goaltenders that in my eyes are No. 1 goaltenders."

Julien will use the tandem as he sees fit in order to give the team the best possible chance to win.

"We're going to have to see as time goes on, and the one thing that's pretty obvious, you know, is that with the amount of games that we played last year and where Tim is in his career, you have to think about making sure he gets the proper rest if we want to get the same performance from him, so Tuukka will play a bigger role. But it's not going to take anything away from the strength of our team. If anything, it'll only make it better and give us some durability."

Rask agrees that the Bruins have a better chance of repeating as champions if both goalies have success.

"You always approach the season the same way and you expect to play a lot," Rask said. "You have to be ready for that, but I think we're in a great spot, having two capable goalies who can play every single night, and that's a privilege for our hockey team and I hope we can take advantage of that."

During the 2009-10 season it was Rask who earned the No. 1 job down the stretch and into the postseason. Learning what it takes to play in the playoffs, where the Bruins lost to the Flyers after blowing a 3-0 series lead, was an invaluable experience for him. But sitting and watching last spring was just as important.

"It was a real different year because I'm not used to sitting on the bench that much and not playing," Rask said. "It was a lot of learning and I learned that no matter what your role is you've got to be one of the boys and support each other every day. I think that's going to help me in the future, and I felt the guys made me feel like a part of the group even though I wasn't playing that much. I really learned support is a great thing for a hockey club."

What he witnessed was an incredible run by Thomas, and there was no way Rask could sit and complain that he wasn't playing.

"It was great to watch him play," Rask said. "He was in that mindset that nothing goes by him and it was great to see him have that success."

Rask, who had minor offseason surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee, will be relied on more this season in order to give Thomas proper rest. Thomas doesn't have a specific number of games he would like to play, saying he'll just take it as it comes.

"I don't set a strict number or anything like that," Thomas said. "In previous years it seems right around 55 games is where I'm still fresh for the playoffs. It depends how the season goes and how the team is playing. If the team is on a roll and both goalies are winning, then you can play both goalies. If one goalie is winning and the other one isn't, then the goalie who is winning will play more. It can ebb and flow throughout the whole season and that's why there's no use making a plan for the whole season."

Thomas is the type of player who knows how his career measures up against some of the great goaltenders in the game. His resume is worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, but Thomas will also be the first to tell you that the last chapter isn't written yet.

"Not really thinking about that at this point," Thomas said. "I still need to do a lot of work before I can even think about that. Just like I've been saying about everything, it's best to break it down into small compartments and focus on small goals. I'm not focused on a day-to-day basis to get into the Hall of Fame. I'll look at having a good start for the first five games of the year, and then after the first five games I'll reassess where I'm at and figure out if I need to pick it up or keep going the way I'm going. I prefer to look small picture because that's where I've had the most success."

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.