Would the Bruins turn to Tim Thomas for a fourth straight game to take advantage of his stellar start to the season, or was Tuukka Rask overdue for his second start of the year after carrying the Bruins for so much of last year?
In the end, the choice proved easy for Bruins coach Claude Julien, and there was absolutely no need for second guessing.
Thomas got the nod again and delivered another spectacular effort, stopping 38 of the 39 shots he faced to lead the Bruins to a 4-1 win over Washington in their long-awaited home opener on Thursday.
"Well, you know when a goaltender is in the zone, you want to ride him," said Julien. "I think with the way he played in Washington the other night, coming back with him was important because they knew what they were going to face. He didn't give them much in Washington. I thought maybe mentally it was giving us an edge to put him in net, and he proved us right."
Thomas certainly seemed to be in the Capitals' heads all night, as he stood on his own with some acrobatic saves to keep the Caps off the board early on.
"We knew they were going to come out hard, and Timmy was up to the task," said Julien. "Timmy made some great saves in the first and kept it scoreless."
That didn't prevent Julien from playing some head games of his own, as Rask was the first goalie off the ice at the morning skate, usually a sure sign that netminder would get the start. As good as Rask was last year, the Capitals would have loved a night off for Thomas. Much to their chagrin, however, it was the 36-year-old veteran who led the Bruins onto the ice to the cheers of the Garden faithful.
Thomas earned even more cheers throughout the game, as he repeatedly stymied the potent Washington offense. Alexander Ovechkin hadn't been held without a point this season until these last two games against the Bruins, as he could get nothing going against Thomas.
And the Bruins fed off Thomas' play as much as the Capitals struggled with it.
"It means a lot," said Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron. "It helps when you see a guy like him battling and making those huge saves that we needed. You know they're a good team. They've got a great offense and they are going to get some chances every once in a while and Timmy did the job."
It's a job Thomas hasn't been able to do this well in years. Last season was marred by a hip injury that required offseason surgery, but the problem has actually bothered him for much longer. Even though he won the Vezina just two years ago, Thomas stated he hasn't felt this good since the lockout season of 2004-05, when he was the MVP of the Finnish League.
"I think I have had the speed, but if you can't turn your hip or move your hip, you can't ever use it," said Thomas, who is now 4-0-0 and has stopped 133 of the 136 shots he has faced this season. "At times last year, I felt like a one-legged goalie."
Now, he's part of a two-headed monster in the Bruins' net, and even with his early success, Thomas is happy to share the workload with Rask.
"I understand, me and Tuukka are a tandem and there's room enough for both of us to play and for us to get the games both of us should get," said Thomas. "Sometimes you might win and not get to play the next game. And last year, overall, Tuukka played better at home than I did, so I wouldn't have been surprised either way. The coach showed confidence in me by giving me the home opener and I wanted to reward not just him, but the whole home crowd."
Still, as strong as Thomas is playing, it will be tough for Julien to keep him out of the net in the foreseeable future.
And Thomas isn't willing to chalk up his outstanding start to just getting hot at the right time. He believes he can maintain this level of performance.
"I don't expect anything," said Thomas. "I take it on a day-to-day basis and just take it from there. I'm hoping this isn't just a hot streak, that this is me now."
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