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Today is a day to celebrate the greatness of Tim Thomas 04.04.09 at 12:09 pm ET
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There was a great deal of talk about persevering, unorthodox goaltending and his age — he’ll be 35 year of age in a matter of weeks — but Saturday morning was clearly the exact right moment to celebrate the classic American success story that is Tim Thomas.

The B’s goaltender was the son of a salesman growing up in hardscrabble Flint, Michigan — a guy that was never handed anything during his entire career and was taught work ethic and stick-to-itiveness by his parents. Not at the University of Vermont where he became an All-American goaltender, and not later on in the nine stops along his minor league/European odyssey that included stints in both the Finnish and Swedish Elite Leagues along with traditional minor league stops like the ECHL and the defunct Colonial Hockey League. 

It’s about a goaltender that’s fit well within the long, storied tradition of Bruins goaltenders from Tiny Thompson to Andy Moog and Pete Peeters. After recently watching the Original Six History of the Bruins DVD and being reintroduced to so many great B’s goalies from the past, it was clear that Thomas is now up in that pantheon with the rest of the Black and Gold puckstopping legends. The fact that he didn’t crack the NHL until after the age of 30 will just another part of his legendary story.

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli admitted that he had a bit of a preconceived idea about Thomas’ ultimate ceiling in terms of talent prior to coming to Boston, but that changed when he saw the netminder’s high-wire acrobatic act between the pipes on a nightly basis. Instead of grading out a goalie that was constantly out of position and seemed to always be scrambling for a recovery, he saw an incredible athlete that could just flat out perform his No. 1 duty guarding the B’s cage: stop the puck.

“When we talk about the Tim Thomas story, we talk about perseverance over a long period of time, we talk about a long journey, and we talk about an unorthodox , hybrid style,” said Chiarelli. “But what sometimes gets lost is his uncanny ability to stop the puck. That’s why we’ve extended him.”

That second impression culminated in a four-year contract for a reported $20 million that Thomas made official on Friday, and talked about along with Chiarelli — the man that was playing point during the long negotiations — on Saturday morning prior to the Bruins/Rangers tilt.

Chiarelli admitted that Thomas’ age (he’ll turn 39 in the final days of the four-year pact) was a consideration, but that two things mitigated his status as a bit of a middle-aged goalie: there are many goalies still close to their puck-stopping primes in their mid-to-late 30’s and Thomas is relatively fresh after not entering the NHL grind until he had already crossed the 30 years-old threshold. In Chiarelli’s eyes, paying all those dues in Europe and the minors are now benefitting the “Tank.”

“I’m very happy to be staying in Boston for the next four years,” said Thomas, who is leading the NHL in Goals Against Average (GAA) of 2.11 and a save percentage of .932 and putting the finishing touches on a Vezina Trophy-worthy season. “With free agency potentially coming up this summer, you think about whether you’d rather play somewhere else or you’d rather stay in Boston. After weighing things over and over, the answer always kept coming back to ‘Boston’.

“I’m very happy that this is done, and I think I’ve done a really good job of just concentrating on hockey throughout the year, even knowing that we’ve had our talks off and on,” added Thomas, who then went out and tossed his 12th career NHL shutout against the Rangers later on Saturday afternoon. “This gives me a 100 percent chance to just focus on hockey and leave the rest of the stuff (behind).”

Chiarelli said that the team faces some difficult decisions to make over the summer when Phil Kessel, David Krejci and Matt Hunwick are all restricted free agents and P.J. Axelsson also finds his contract up. There’s a near certainty that at least one big contract will need to be moved in the summer months amid an uncertain salary cap situation, and Chiarelli didn’t shy away from that part of his managerial duties. There could be a painful trade or two coming down the line because of the salary cap situation, but that’s another story for another day.

Yesterday was about Thomas.

“This is our job,” said Chiarelli. “We have to figure out the puzzle, we have to make decisions. I’d like to sign everyone, but we have to make decisions over the summer and look at the performance of our players. Then we do the math.

“We’ve been doing the math ever since I’ve come here and that’s a large part of the job,” added the B’s decision-maker. “What is important to the organization is that we have terrific goaltending for a long time, and sometimes you have to put side the math — not completely — and make the decisions like we did with Tim.”

Thomas will continue answering all the questions that dog him when the playoffs begin in a matter of weeks, but yesterday was one of those few days when the B’s goalie could kick up his skates and have a little pride at a moment that proved he has truly arrived.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Peter Chiarelli, Tim Thomas,
Thomas: The answer kept coming back Boston at 9:53 am ET
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The Bruins made it official on Saturday morning by announcing a four-year contract extension for goaltender Tim Thomas, worth a reported $20 million.

“I’m very happy to be staying in Boston for the next four years knowing that with free agency coming up potentially this summer, you have to think about would you rather go somewhere else or would you rather stay in Boston and after thinking things over, the answer kept coming back, Boston,” Thomas said.

The news conference was held at TD Banknorth Garden, some four hours before Boston’s scheduled matinee with the New York Rangers. If the Bruins win, they clinch the number one seed in the Eastern Conference for the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs.

More from Thomas, as he expressed satisfaction while wanting to maintain focus on the season.

“To a certain extent there is,” Thomas said of the satisfaction factor. “To another extent, we’re in the middle of the season, we have a game at one o’clock today so I haven’t really let it sink in. To a certain extent, I’m just going to focus on day-by-day and game-by-game who we’re playing. I think that’s the way to approach this.

“I don’t this is anytime to sit back and pat yourself too much on the back. I think it’s more, ‘Hey, we have a lot more to accomplish that we could accomplish this year.’ And I’m looking forward to making a push at achieving those accomplishments,” he added.

General manager Peter Chiarelli decided to invest a reported $20 million over four years in his goaltender, who
could wind up winning the Vezina Trophy for top netminder in the league.

‘€œWhat sometimes gets lost in the translation is the uncanny ability to stop the puck,” Chiarelli said of Thomas’ 2.11 goals against and .932 save percentage this season, both of which lead the NHL. “And Tim has shown that with all the other things and that’€™s why we’€™ve extended him for a long time and we’€™re excited to have him on board.

‘€œWhen we talk about the Tim Thomas story, we talk about perseverance over a long period time, we talk about a long journey and we talk about an unorthodox and hybrid style, so to speak.’€

Part of the journey for Thomas includes sacrifice, like giving back half of his signing bonus or $75,000 to the Edmonton Oilers back in 1998 so he could play in Europe, before returning to the NHL and the Bruins for the 2002-03 season.

“That’s a good investment, though,” chimed in Chiarelli. “The rate of return on that is pretty good.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, NHL, Tim Thomas,
Sounds of the game… Bruins 2, Senators 1 04.02.09 at 10:32 pm ET
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The Bruins have won 50 games in an NHL season for the first time since the 1992-93 season, when Cam Neely, Ray Bourque and Adam Oates led them to 51 wins and 109 points.

“Everybody’€™s different,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “I’€™m not big on those things.  It’€™s great.  I’€™m not saying anything negative about it, just that it’€™s a win tonight, and another step towards hopefully clinching the conference.”

Maybe the reason for Julien’s cautious approach is what every hockey coach of a high seed fears at this time of year. The team that gets a hot goalie and rides them to a first-round shocking upset. Oh, say, like the 1993 Buffalo Sabres.

What Bruins fans don’t want to remember about that campaign but can’t forget is how it ended ‘€” a shocking first-round four-game sweep at the hands of the Sabres. Done in four after a glorious regular season. But still, that didn’t keep some of the key Bruins from reflecting on how far this team has come after missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons in ’05-’06 and ’06-’07.

Julien took over for the 2007-08 season and suddenly things changed on Causeway.

“You’€™re walking into a situation where it had been a tough year the year before, and there had been a lot of changes made, and our goal was to bring in some young players and give them a chance to blend in and build around the core veterans that we had,” Julien said. “We knew there would be some growing pains, but again, I don’€™t think anybody probably thought that we would be in this position this quickly, but we’€™ll certainly take it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Bruins, NHL, Ottawa Senators,
Sounds of the game… Bruins 3, Lightning 1 03.31.09 at 10:28 pm ET
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Maybe the most important aspect of Tuesday’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning was that it wasn’t pretty.

After all, in two weeks, style points are going to mean even less than they do now.

The Bruins have won four straight and are 6-1-1 in their last eight, and their coach can already see an improvement in the way they’re approaching the game.

“I think we’re starting to get back to that so-called North-South type of game,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said after the win. “We’re going in direct lines and our speed is much better coming out of our own end as a unit instead of being all spread out. That part of our game is slowing coming back.”

Manny Fernandez looked much better between the pipes on Tuesday night, after surviving a 7-5 win in Toronto on Saturday night.

“We sat down and we’ve talked to each other and looked each other in the eyes and I think from here on out we let the personal stats take a hike and what’s important is the two points every night,” Fernandez said. “There won’t be any easy ones from here on out.”

And that will be especially true after the regular season finale on Easter Sunday, April 12. The Stanley Cup playoffs will begin several days later and captain Zdeno Chara will be one of the key players the Black and Gold will look to for leadership.

They certainly didn’t have to wait long to see it on Tuesday when he got into it with Evgeny Artyukhin eight minutes into the game. The fight set the tone and the Bruins followed in step.

The punch of the night was delivered by Cam Neely-reincarnated Milan Lucic. His right cross to the face of Tampa Bay blue liner Josef Melichar with 12 seconds remaining in the second showed that the Bruins hadn’t fallen asleep in this one. Melichar turtled but the Bruins didn’t.

But Julien reminded everyone that he would like to see his team finish with more of a killer instinct as the Bruins allowed the Lightning hope when they made it a two-goal game with 12 minutes into the third. A long shot from the top of the slot got by Fernandez only to ring off the post behind him and keep the B’s ahead 3-1.

“It almost seems like we’re afraid to run up the score and all of sudden there’s times where we’re starting to make those cute plays again and those are the things that you can’t have once you get into the playoffs,” Julien said.

“We can’t be looking at who we play,” said Chara, who netted two goals on the night. “We just have to be playing our way and bring the intensity and determination from every game now on.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara
Sounds of the game… Bruins 4, Devils 1 03.22.09 at 6:14 pm ET
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It was quite simply the biggest game of the regular season.

And the urgency that coach Claude Julien has been preaching and begging his players to show was on full display on Sunday time at the best time against the one of the best goalies in NHL history.

On this Sunday afternoon at the Garden, the Bruins made Martin Brodeur look human, while avoiding being tagged victim No. 554.

That’s called answering the bell – or in the Bruins’ case – the deafening foghorn that sounded four times in a win that clinched the Bruins first Northeast Divsion title since 2003-04. For those who don’t remember, that was the last season before the 2004-05 lockout that wiped out an entire season.

But listen to Julien and you get the sense there was much less excitement in clinching the division title than Garden P.A. announcer Jim Martin had in announcing it to the fans.

‘€œIt wasn’€™t even mentioned once,” Julien said. “I didn’€™t talk about it. I didn’€™t hear any players talk about it. Everything tonight was put on the way we needed to play. Nothing else was talked about. I didn’€™t talk about the division title, I didn’€™t talk about the importance of the win. I just talked about our play. To me, it just showed to me how important that is to me, to do the things you have to do to win.’€

“I didn’t even know about it until I heard it being announced to the crowd after the game,” Bruins goalie Tim Thomas added afterward.

Of course, in the bigger picture is the Eastern Conference, which the Bruins now lead Jersey by five points (102-97) with nine games remaining for Boston while Jersey has 10.

‘€œI think what happened tonight is something, definitely not everything,” Julien said. “It was certainly something where we took a step in the right direction. It was a big game for both teams. We found a way to win that. There’€™s still nine games left. Jersey has some games in hand and they’€™re playing extremely well.’€

The Bruins found a way to protect a 2-0 lead by making it 3-0, something they couldn’t do on Jan. 29 against these same Devils on the same Garden ice. They lost in overtime, 4-3.

Mark Recchi wasn’t in Boston then. He was on Sunday and he helped by assisting on the first two goals.

Recchi said the Bruins played the right way and didn’t let up.

Marc Savard called it the biggest game of the year.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, NHL,
Sounds of the game… Kings 3, Bruins 2 OT 03.19.09 at 10:29 pm ET
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One could make the case that the Bruins didn’t see Thursday night’s self-destruction coming.

But talk to the players themselves following a 3-2 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings at the Garden and they will tell you that if they didn’t see the writing on the wall, they certainly felt the trembling beneath their skates.

Earlier in the season, a two-goal lead heading into the third period was money in the bank. The Bruins are quickly turning into AIG. Entering Thursday night, they were 32-2-2 when leading after two periods. Even more impressively, they were 19-1-2 with a 2-0 lead.

But the Bruins had two golden opportunities to make it 3-0 and couldn’t on two power plays midway through the second.

The Kings scored early in the third and all of sudden things began to change.

Tim Thomas, though, said afterward that while Michael Handzus’ goal on the power play was big at 9:50 of the third period, it was the inability to put that third marker on the board that came back to haunt the Bruins.

“When they scored the first one, it changed even more. But I think the momentum had changed even before that,” Thomas said. “We left them in the game and kind of made believers out of them.”

But Thomas’ next statement about protecting a third period lead is FAR more telling about the state of mind the Bruins have right now and what they need to address come playoff time.

‘€œEarlier this season we just knew we were going to win when were in that situation,” Thomas said. “I think now we still believe we’€™re going to win but it’€™s not like a 100 percent like it was earlier this year. It’s not 100 percent confidence.’€

Then there’s their head coach. Claude Julien hasn’t minced words or treaded lightly all season. He wasn’t about to start after this loss.

‘€œWe’€™re going to have to start outworking the other team and our best players are going to have to start finding their game,’€ Julien said. ‘€œOur power play was totally flat tonight. If anything, our (penalty kill) had better chances tonight.’€

Ouch.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Kings, NHL, Tim Thomas
Sounds of the Game… Bruins 5, Senators 3 03.12.09 at 10:27 pm ET
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Claude Julien had a message for his team prior to its showdown with the Ottawa Senators – start playing like you’re playing for something.

Julien is more than aware that his team has sewn up a top three seed by virtue of their cakewalk over the Montreal Canadiens in the Northeast Division of the Eastern Conference. What he’s looking for is something more.

“We’ve got to give ourselves something to motivate us and aim for,” Julien said. “As I told them, ‘Why Not Us?’ Why shouldn’t we be giving ourselves a goal and maybe that’ll help us focus on those games coming up and not allow us to get into a comfort zone and say, ‘Well it doesn’t matter if we play .500 we’re going to be in a playoff position.'”

The 2009 Bruins taking a page out of the 2004 Red Sox‘ bag of tricks.

“We want to try and be the best we can and that’s one way of motivating ourselves,” Julien added.

Specifically, there’s the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the team that finishes first overall in the NHL point standings. The Bruins entered Thursday one point behind Detroit and San Jose for first overall in the league.

So when the Bruins jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead, and later 4-1, it certainly appeared like they got the message.

“We want to start having some fun around here again and the only way to do that is to start getting some wins,” Marc Savard said. “We know there’s 13 games left. We talked about it as a group. We have a chance to do something special here. We know we want to win the Stanley Cup and that’s the ultimate goal but the Presidents’ Cup is nice, too. We’ve got to want to play for something right now and we had a good chat about that. The way we started, we realized that and we went out and did something about it.”

But the Bruins had to hold on for dear life as the Senators cut the lead to one, 4-3. But the Black and Gold, thanks to an empty-netter by Phil Kessel, managed to skate away with a 5-3 win and now stand just three points shy of 100 for the season. Our man Joe Haggerty has insight on the re-emergence of Kessel and David Krejci and why they are key to Boston’s playoff hopes this spring.

Zdeno Chara said every night is going to be tough from here on out.

Tim Thomas won the game in net but said the Bruins can play better.

Aaron Ward said Thursday was still not a satisfactory win.

Ward on his first career short-handed goal.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Presidents' Trophy,
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