Bruins Mailbag: Tim Thomas May Not Perform at 2011 Level, But Solid Performances Key to Bruins Long Playoff Run

Bruins Mailbag: Tim Thomas May Not Perform at 2011 Level, But Solid Performances Key to Bruins Long Playoff RunThe Bruins are in the midst of the first of what they hope is many rounds of playoff action this spring.

But while they have only played a handful of games so far in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal with Washington, there have already been plenty of questions raised with the series even at 2-2 heading back to Boston for Game 5 on Saturday. I've tried to answer as many of them as possible in the latest edition of the Bruins Mailbag.

As always, I'd like to thank all the readers who sent in questions and apologize in advance if I wasn't able to get to yours. Please keep submitting your questions and I'll answer as many of them as I can throughout the postseason as the Bruins continue their quest for another Cup.

Do you think Jordan Caron will see ice time this series?
— William Rosa via Facebook

I don't see Caron getting into the lineup in this series unless the Bruins suffer an injury up front. Right now, the bottom two lines are playing well and there's no need to make any changes there. The third line of Benoit Pouliot, Chris Kelly and Brian Rolston is carrying the Bruins offense, while the fourth line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton has also been solid. Paille scored a key goal in Game 3 and earned the chain as the Bruins' player of the game. He and Campbell are valuable penalty killers, and with the series turning more and more physical and nasty, the Bruins would be ill-advised to sit Thornton.

The top two lines are the units that are struggling, but I can't see Claude Julien sitting the likes of David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Rich Peverley, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand or Tyler Seguin. The Bruins have to let those guys play their way out of their slumps. Julien can tinker with the combinations, as he already has by switching Krejci and Bergeron, but he's not going to sit any of those guys as long as they're healthy. That leaves Caron as the odd man out for now. That could change as the Bruins get deeper into the playoffs or if injuries strike, but don't expect any rash moves to get Caron into the lineup at this point.

Don't you think that the Bruins need to turn this game into a rock fight in order to win? The Caps have too much finesse and star power and not enough of the dirty grit it takes to win in the playoffs. I think that this year's playoffs can only prove my point. Look at the Philly-Pitt series. Not only has Philly beat them on the board, they beat them up too.
— CJ, Washington, D.C.

It's nice to hear from someone down in enemy territory in the nation's capital. The Bruins are at their best when they play with an edge and they are certainly built to play a physical style, but I think it's also important that they don't go too far in that regard and get themselves in trouble with penalties.

While there has been a lot of rough stuff in the early going this postseason, the league is clearly cracking down on that both with a slew of suspensions and near-constant calls in-game. Wednesday's Game 4 matchup between the Flyers and Penguins barely featured any 5-on-5 play with 20 minor penalties, five misconducts and a game misconduct. And that was not even a remotely physical game as players were sent to the box just for looking at each other the wrong way.

That overreaction from the officials was almost as disgraceful as the cheap shots that marred the previous game between those clubs, and hopefully won't set a new standard for how all the games will be called going forward.

I've seen that Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series a little differently too. I don't believe the Flyers have "beat them up" at all. They dominated on the scoreboard until Game 4, but Pittsburgh did just fine in the physical encounters. If anything, the Flyers are the ones who have been beaten up, albeit often more with cheap shots than straight up fights, but even in the fights the only clear win was Kris Letang's one-sided beatdown of Kimmo Timonen.

The Flyers are still living off their old Broad Street Bullies reputation, but they are no longer really built that way. Under Peter Laviolette, they have built a highly skilled team that doesn't stress that traditional toughness. They have one heavyweight who rarely plays in Jody Shelley, an agitator who is a willing but unintimidating fighter in Zac Rinaldo and a few physical players that add some solid grit in Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell and Max Talbot.

That's a good mix to complement their finesse players, but not exactly a murderers' row. They have the sandpaper needed to win in the postseason, but it's the skill of Claude Giroux and Co. that's been the key to their success in that series — not any attempts to beat up the Penguins.

The Bruins are built more to take advantage of their physical strengths, but they too will still have to win with skill as well as toughness. They showed the ability to balance those two components last year, and they will need to do so again this year while facing even greater scrutiny from the officials, who will be looking to make sure there's no repeat of the incidents that marred Game 3 in Philadelphia.

Should Claude Julien try Tyler Seguin on the first line? He brings so much energy.
— Glen Pye via Facebook

Seguin hasn't brought a lot of energy or much of anything else in the first three games of the series. He does have a team-high 14 shots, but has yet to convert any and has no points through four games. He shouldn't be singled out because everyone on the top two lines has struggled in the series, but he needs to find a way to put his skills to better use and fight through the tighter checking in the postseason to give the Bruins some much-needed production out of their top six.

I also don't think there's any real distinction on this team between the "first line" and the "second line." Both units get comparable ice time and opportunities, and as seen by the flip of Krejci and Bergeron in Game 3, the roles of those two lines are pretty interchangeable. I wouldn't worry too much about whether either of those lines was designated as the "first line," and be focused more on whether both lines can start producing some results because the Bruins won't go far without production from all six of those guys.

Do you think the B’s can ride Tim Thomas through the playoffs again this year?
— Billy Gagnon via Facebook

Do you think that Tim Thomas will last until the end of the playoffs without a break?
— Cynthia Lowe via Facebook

Lots of questions about Thomas this week. I'm not sure his performance through four games should give rise to so many concerns, but obviously his play will be a huge factor in determining how far the Bruins will go this spring. Thomas wasn't tested a lot in those first four games, but he came up with some big saves and overall was pretty solid. He hasn't played at the same level he was at last year in the playoffs, but that was such a historic run that I'm not sure it's fair to expect him, or any goaltender, to match that anytime soon.

Even with Tuukka Rask on the mend and getting closer to being ready to dress as Thomas' backup, I don't expect to see Rask in any game action unless Thomas is injured or really struggles. Either of those scenarios would be very bad news for the Bruins even if Rask is physically ready to step in. I don't see Thomas coming out otherwise, though. The Bruins will go as far as he can take them. His rest will come in the off-days between games if needed, not by getting a "break" by sitting out any playoff games. Teams with true No. 1 netminders don't do that with the stakes as high as they are in every postseason game, and Thomas has definitely earned No. 1 status with his performance over the last couple years.

There are still legitimate concerns about how he will hold up to the workload after how much he played last year, the amount he had to play down the stretch this season after Rask was injured and the fact that he did just turn 38. But after struggling for much of the second half of the season, he appeared to pick up a second wind in the final couple weeks of the regular season and has rounded back into his old form just in time for the playoffs.

How do you see the B's goaltending situation playing out next season and the season after? Who among [Tim] Thomas, [Tuukka] Rask and [Anton] Khudobin stays?
— Justin Walden ‏via Twitter ( @justwalden)

A lot will depend on how Thomas fares this postseason. If he leads the Bruins on another long run and comes anywhere close to reaching last year's level of play, I have a hard time seeing the Bruins parting ways with him before his contract expires after next season.

But if he struggles or the Bruins exit early, it would not be a shock to see the Bruins explore their options, as Thomas' no-trade protection does expire on July 1. He is 38 and carries a hefty $5 million cap hit for next year, so the Bruins may be ready to turn things over to Rask and convert their goaltender of the future into their goalie of the present.

Even at his age, Thomas could yield a decent return from a team looking for a netminder to put them over the top. His actual salary next year is significantly less than his cap hit, so the financial risk is minimal and there's no long-term commitment with just one year left on his deal. Add the Vezinas and Conn Smythe on his resume and Thomas would draw interest.

The Bruins have to decide if they want to go in that direction, though. Rask was having a solid bounce-back year this season and proved he could handle a starting role back in 2009-10, but he's a restricted free agent who will be looking for a hefty raise from his current $1.25 million salary. Plus, the kind of abdominal/groin injury that he suffered can lead to lingering issues and the risk of re-injury.

Khudobin is under contract for next season, when his deal actually becomes a one-way deal. It's not big money at $875,000, but it does complicate things. That's a lot to pay a guy in Providence, and if he does get sent down, he would be subject to re-entry waivers. He'd almost certainly be claimed, which would leave the Bruins responsible for half that salary on their cap, so the B's would likely not recall him even if Thomas or Rask were injured.

Even with his one-way deal, for Khudobin to be in the mix in Boston next season, it would likely mean that either Thomas or Rask is no longer around. Of those two, I can't see the Bruins moving Rask at this stage of his career, so my guess is that there will be one more year of a Thomas-Rask tandem before the torch is passed to Rask and Khudobin will get to enjoy a nice payday in the AHL. That is unless the Bruins get blown away by an offer for Thomas. In that case, a Rask-Khudobin duo is not a bad fallback option to go with whatever assets Thomas yields.

How do you think the Bruins would be doing in the playoffs if [Nathan] Horton was in?
— Mark Bibby via Twitter (@MBibby511)

The Bruins went into Thursday's game with a chance to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, so it's not like they haven't been able to adjust to Horton's absence. But it's still a significant loss any time you have to play without a player of Horton's caliber — especially with the way he rose to the challenge of playing in the postseason for the first time in his career last year when he delivered huge clutch goals to win a pair of Game 7s.

With the Bruins managing just seven goals in the first four games, including single goals in three of those games, a healthy Horton would certainly be a welcome addition to the lineup. But Boston has managed to overcome plenty of adversity in recent years. They won the Cup last year rallying after Horton went down in Game 3 of the Final, and they have had plenty of time to adjust to playing without him again after he suffered another concussion in January.

The Bruins aren't the type of team to make excuses or play the "what if" game, so as much as they miss Horton both personally and on the ice, they aren't going to wallow in wondering how they would be doing if Horton was healthy.

The fact of the matter is that Horton will not play this postseason. It's probably best for everyone to just wish him the best for a full recovery in time to return next year and focus on the players that are available as the Bruins try to get past these pesky Capitals.

Have questions for Douglas Flynn's mailbag? Leave them in the comments section below, send them to him via Twitter @douglasflynn or send them here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week. Be sure to check back to see if your question was answered.

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