The man who entered last night with a career-best 10-game winning streak proved to be just that: a man.
It is rare when Tim Thomas looks human. There were few indications of such mortality during Thomas’s winning streak, which included three shutouts and a nomination for the NHL’s No. 1 star in November (9-0-0, 1.76 goals-against average, .941 save percentage). Thomas’s style looked as impenetrable as the bushy moustache that’s been keeping watch over his upper lip since the beginning of last month.
But in the third period of last night’s 2-0 loss to the Panthers at TD Garden, Thomas booted out a Shawn Matthias shot, then placed the rebound in the net-front danger zone. Florida took advantage of Thomas’s rare misplay. Tomas Kopecky jammed the puck home at 17:28 for the winning goal.
“The rebound kind of stuck there,’’ Thomas (28 saves) said. “I thought it was going to come off my pad a little harder than that. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. With my first push to get over there, my foot slipped. I thought my D was going to clear it, so I relaxed. I realized he missed it. Then I didn’t have time to get back over before Kopecky got a stick on it.’’
The play started with much promise at the other end. The No. 1 line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Nathan Horton had gained puck possession in the offensive zone. The forwards (10 shots total) were down low and putting heat on the Florida defenders. But Lucic lost control of the puck, which gave the Panthers speed and numbers going the other way.
For a goalie, staring down onrushing forwards such as Matthias and Sean Bergenheim can be a scary sight. It’s what the Bruins, while transitioning rapidly from defense to offense, had done during their 15-game rumble without a regulation loss.
“A lot of teams nowadays, that seems like their best way to create offense,’’ Thomas said. “When they get the puck, it’s the transition offense. Some teams are good at dumping it in and getting it back. Some teams are both ways. Some teams thrive off the transition. At least based on tonight, they seemed to get their best chances off the rush.’’
Although Thomas didn’t place Matthias’s rebound where he wanted (he usually steers such pucks to the edges of the rink), his teammates couldn’t bail him out. Dennis Seidenberg, who had supported the attack at the other end, was racing to get back in the play. Joe Corvo couldn’t keep a tight gap on Matthias and was backtracking the entire way. Krejci was back to cover for Seidenberg, but the center couldn’t do much to slow down Bergenheim’s middle drive.
Finally, a backchecking Lucic couldn’t catch up to Kopecky in the slot.
“We did have numbers back,’’ Seidenberg said. “Just couldn’t clean up the rebound. Maybe I should have stayed back. I don’t know. It’s tough to say.’’
With some stronger finish and better luck, Thomas could have stretched his streak to 11 wins. The Bruins clanged five pucks of posts. The Bruins had the better scoring chances. Conversely, the Panthers were limited to counterattacks and occasional down-low sniffs on Thomas.
Thomas entered with the longest winning streak of any Black and Gold goalie since Andy Moog. From Feb. 27-March 25, 1993, the old-school standup puckstopper had also posted W’s in 10 straight appearances.
Last night, Thomas wasn’t as busy as Jose Theodore. Thomas’s counterpart submitted a 40-save shutout, with his best stop coming when he gloved Lucic’s close-range chance at 4:09 of the third. It marked the second straight game the Bruins were foiled by top-shelf goaltending. On Tuesday in Winnipeg, Ondrej Pavelec turned aside 39 shots in the Jets’ 2-1 win.
Thomas, however, had his sterling moments. His best sequence came in the third when the game was still scoreless. Thomas turned back a short-range Jack Skille shot. Then when old friend Marco Sturm tried knocking on the door off the rebound, Thomas stood tall against the ex-Bruin.
Thomas could get another crack at getting another win tomorrow against Columbus.
“We’d like to get back on the winning track,’’ Thomas said. “That was obviously our intent going into tonight’s game. We’ve had a little bit of a power outage, which is to be expected when we’re scoring at as great a clip as we have been.’’