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BOSTON -- Many would agree that the Boston Bruins would not have hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2011 without Conn Smythe- and Vezina-winning goalie Tim Thomas, but coach Claude Julien was quick to remind reporters Thursday that the players in front of Thomas on the ice had a lot to do with that title as well.
"Well, they're right," Julien answered when presented with the notion that Thomas had a lot to do with the Bruins winning the Cup. "But Tim Thomas doesn't win a Stanley Cup if our team doesn't play as well as it did in front of him. This is an honest statement. Tim played well but I think our team played just as well in front of him."
Thomas, who was in Boston on Thursday for the first time as a visiting player, posted a 16-9 record in 25 playoff games en route to the Cup in the 2010-11 postseason, which included a 1.98 goals-against average, a .940 save percentage and four shutouts.
"You don't win a Stanley Cup just with a goaltender," Julien said. "He won the Conn Smythe because he was very good, but at the same time I would like to hope that statistics of your goaltenders can also reflect the team in front of you. We did a pretty good job in front of him for years, minimizing the goal-scoring chances, the quality of it, so let's make sure we don't take away the credit from the rest of the team, too. He was a big part of it, so were a lot of other guys, but at the same time we won a Stanley Cup because we were a good team. That's what I would like to think, anyways."
Bruins forward Chris Kelly echoed the sentiment that the Bruins' run to the Cup was about much more than goaltending.
"We don't win without all of us," said Kelly, who conceded that the team would not have won without Thomas. "The great thing about hockey is it's the ultimate team sport and your goaltender has to be your best player if you want a shot at winning any kind of title. Timmy played extremely well for us, but we don't win if Nathan Horton doesn't score in overtime, or Bergy and Brad Marchand don't score in Game 7 of the Cup finals.
"You can say those things, and I think most of us realize Timmy was a huge part of it, but we all were to a certain extent and that's what made that team so special. At one point during the playoffs, someone, or a line, or a D-pairing stepped up and was huge for this team to have success."
The Bruins host the Florida Panthers on Thursday night at TD Garden, but Thomas remains on injured reserve with a groin injury and will not play against his former team. He has practiced the past few days and took part in Florida's morning skate. Because he's not on the active roster, he's not required to speak with the media and chose not to.
"He's still on injury reserve and that's unfortunate for us, but there's still a lot of hockey left in this season and when we he comes back we want him feeling 100 percent and being in it for the long haul," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "I know this is disappointing for him but it's the best decision for him and for the team. He's going to be playing a lot of hockey for us this year, unfortunately it won't be tonight in Boston."
The Bruins and Thomas split following the 2011-12 season, when Thomas surprisingly decided to sit out the final year of his contract with Boston to spend more time with his family. Earlier that year, his absence from the team's trip to the White House for political reasons caused a stir among teammates and fans.
Earlier this week, former Bruins forward Tyler Seguin, who was traded to the Dallas Stars in the offseason, returned to the Garden and was booed the entire night. With Thomas out, we won't know how he would be received by Bruins fans. After Thursday, the Panthers aren't back at TD Garden until Jan. 28.
"I don't know how the fans take him, but if there is animosity now, I think time will heal that. I'm guessing but I don't know because Boston sports fans may be able to hold a grudge better than anyone," Kelly said with a laugh. "With anything time heals and maybe he'll get a reception, but who knows?"
"I can't comment on what [fans'] opinion is of him," Bruins forward Gregory Campbell said. "I know Timmy was a great goaltender for this organization for a long time and he won a championship here. However they perceive whatever he's done is up to [the fans]. The players in this room respect him as a hockey player and how he competes.
"I know Boston is full of passionate fans and they sometimes take things personally, but at the end of the day people make decisions for different reasons and his decision was personal, so what can you do?"
The Bruins faced Thomas on Oct. 17 in Florida, with Boston earning a 3-2 victory. He played twice after that before suffering the injury. He is 2-3-0 in six games with a 3.11 GAA.