Commentary

Bruins feeling positive vibe

After shellacking of Maple Leafs, Tim Thomas says Cup champs are back on track

Updated: March 20, 2012, 12:56 AM ET
By Jackie MacMullan | ESPNBoston.com

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.

[+] 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.

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

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.

Boston blitzed Toronto so completely in the opening minutes, the visitors struggled to carry the puck past the spoked B at center ice, never mind inside the blue line. Nearly 12 and a half minutes had ticked off the game clock before Matthew Lombardi finally saw some daylight and careened a wrist shot off Thomas' pad for Toronto's first shot of the night.

Meanwhile, the Bruins had staked Thomas a 3-0 lead.

For those of you thirsting for positive signs that the locals are in the process of shedding their extended slump, fluff up the pillows on the couch, heat up a bag of popcorn and simply rewind the first period of this shellacking over and over again.

Boston managed to squeeze it all in: a textbook power-play goal on an exquisite cross-ice pass from Tyler Seguin to Brad Marchand, who unleashed his cat-quick release and beat goalie James Reimer top shelf; a commanding penalty-killing shift that smothered Toronto's snipers, including former Bruin Phil Kessel; a heavyweight bout between Milan Lucic and Mike Komisarek (a residual of their inflamed beef from Komisarek's Montreal days) that featured a vicious uppercut from Boston's rugged winger.

It was a banner night for the old (Brian Rolston had a goal and three assists), the young (Benoit Pouliot had a pair of goals and an assist) and the barely legal (Seguin).

Funny how the appearance of both Kessel and Seguin on the same sheet of real estate is no longer even newsworthy. That's how clearly Seguin has emerged as the preferred young star over the goal-scoring talent who was dealt away for the draft pick that landed Seguin after Kessel made it clear Boston was not his desired address.

Kessel continues to pile up points -- he was third in the league in goals (35) when the evening started -- yet his inability (unwillingness?) to prove his mettle as a two-way player continues to tarnish his reputation.

Seguin knows a bit about that. The tough love coach Claude Julien demonstrated during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run made one thing clear: Scoring is nice, but you still have to be willing to dig the puck out of the corners now and then if you want prime ice time.

The rest of us may have moved on from the intrigue of the Seguin-Kessel trade, but the kid who is wearing the Bruins sweater hasn't forgotten.

"I guess it's a little hard for me to never think of him," Seguin admitted of Kessel. "I was on his line at the All-Star Game. He was one of the first NHL players I've ever met. And when he comes to town and I score a goal, I hear about it.''

Seguin conceded he needed to learn the hard way about the little things in hockey. He realizes just scoring isn't enough, he said, retelling a recent conversation with Zdeno Chara in which the big defenseman claimed he'd gladly give up 10 points for one great block of the puck.

"I'm trying to focus on consistency,'' said Seguin, who is second in the NHL only to teammate Patrice Bergeron in plus-minus. "I want to show the guys even though I'm young in age, I want to be mature on the ice.

"I want to be the guy Coach [Julien] can tap on the shoulder and say, 'A minute left, we're up one goal, go out because you are good in your own zone.' I still have work to do, but I want to get there.''

In the meantime, his team must figure out how to bottle the energy that earned them a three-point cushion over the idle Ottawa Senators. That's nice, but there are no more Toronto games on the schedule. Boston has three games in four nights awaiting them in San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim.

"We're not out of the woods yet,'' Gregory Campbell cautioned.

Thomas hopes he is. Either way, his teammates claim they have his back.

"He's human, right?'' Shawn Thornton offered. "Everyone has ups and downs. It's on us to be better around him when he's having an off night. The problem was we were collectively having off nights together.''

Monday night was not one of those occasions. For 60 minutes, the Bruins looked like champions.

There's no need to score eight goals every time out.

But scoring first would be nice.

And watching your goaltender recapture his mojo would be even better.

Jackie MacMullan

ESPNBoston.com columnist

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