WASHINGTON - On a night when the Bruins finally created productive traffic in front of Capitals rookie goaltender Braden Holtby and escaped Game 3 with a 4-3 victory Monday, it was goalie Tim Thomas’s ability to deny second-chance opportunities that helped the Bruins take a 2-1 series lead.
Thomas made 29 saves in a contest he said felt “more like a normal hockey game’’ compared with the first two low-scoring affairs. Despite allowing three goals, the veteran goalkeeper made key saves at big moments.
None larger, perhaps, than his pad stop against Jay Beagle with 2:20 remaining in the second period. Daniel Paille scored six minutes earlier to tie the game at 2 before Washington continued its attack in the offensive zone. For much of the second period, the Bruins’ puckhandling was sloppy, allowing the Capitals to generate sustained pressure against Thomas.
After a shot by Jason Chimera was deflected wide, another attempt was fired in that careened off the side boards and spun in front of the net. Beagle found open space in the slot, skated onto the bouncing puck and wristed a 16-footer that Thomas trapped in his pads.
“Actually, I was on my toes at that point,’’ Thomas said. “Sometimes you might not see it, but I kind of saw that one coming. We were at a time in the game when it’s 2-2, so after that I was really on my toes. I was actually able to follow that play the whole way through.’’
Thomas was especially wary of pucks headed toward his five-hole after the Capitals’ first goal sailed between his pads on a quick turnaround floater by Alexander Semin. On Washington’s second score, Brooks Laich was standing in front of Thomas as Alex Ovechkin’s snap shot deflected off the stick of Dennis Seidenberg and sailed by Thomas. The Capitals’ third tally was no fault of Thomas’s as a defensive breakdown led to Laich’s breakaway gimme.
Seven goals were scored in Monday’s game, three more than had been scored in the previous two contests. Oddly enough, Thomas said the increase in scoring helped him relax.
“I think in a way, it can help you relax as a goaltender if you start to get that feeling that your team is going to come back,’’ Thomas said. “The first two games, it didn’t even look like we were coming close to scoring. Sometimes in that situation you feel like you’ve got to be perfect and make every save.’’
The Capitals’ defenders made an effort to fire more shots from the point. Especially defenseman Mike Green in the third period. Green fired eight shots toward Thomas in the final 20 minutes, four of which were on goal, including a slapper with 27.5 seconds remaining.
“I think Tim, you look at the goals, and some were tipped or screened. They were tough goals for him to stop. I think he did a great job, because they have some guys who do a pretty good job in front,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I thought Timmy’s done a pretty good job of dealing with the loose pucks and at the same time, our D’s have done a pretty good job at helping Timmy find those pucks.’’
The crowd at the Verizon Center was frenzied from the moment Thomas stepped on the ice for warm-ups. In January, Thomas declined an invitation to join the team at the White House to celebrate last season’s Stanley Cup victory, citing political differences and saying then that he believes the federal government has “grown out of control.’’ The chants and fans holding posters of President Obama behind the net didn’t seem to faze Thomas.
While it wasn’t a vintage playoff performance by any stretch, the 2010-11 Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe winner made enough saves to keep the Bruins in the game and put them in position to take a 3-1 lead Thursday.