The derisive chanting had started after the fifth goal, after Shawn Thornton — who claimed never to have scored on Tim Thomas, even in practice — did just that against the former Bruins goaltender.
It had taken five goals and 2½ periods for the sold-out crowd at TD Garden to go from cheering Thomas upon his pregame introduction to mocking him for a season-worst performance in a place he said still feels like a “home arena.”
And it would only get worse.
Thomas earned a cascade of boos — and likely a good, long look from the NHL Department of Player Safety — with a high stick to the head of Carl Soderberg with 3.4 seconds remaining in a lopsided 6-2 game.
But even before that point, even before he took the shot at Soderberg, the evening was not going the way that Thomas had planned. It was his first career start as a visitor at TD Garden, as he missed the first Panthers game in Boston with a groin injury — though not his first start against Boston this season.
He had received a long ovation on his first trip into town, when he was shown on the JumboTron sitting on the ninth floor of the Garden.
“It still feels very comfortable,” Thomas said of playing in Boston. “I know I’m on the Florida Panthers, obviously, right? I know I’m not on the Boston Bruins and I’m happy where I’m at and I’m excited to be part of that organization. But this still feels like a home arena to me, if that makes any sense.”
An unfriendly one, though.
“I didn’t expect it to go this way,” Thomas said. “I felt good going into it. I felt like I was going to play a strong game and, well, you can see the results.”
The results included 35 saves and those two minutes for high-sticking. Soderberg was attacking the crease and got caught up with a Panthers defender, running into the goaltender with his stick up. Thomas didn’t appreciate that, smashing Soderberg in the side of the helmet with his stick and sending him flying to the ice.
“I haven’t seen that before,” Soderberg said.
He later said that Thomas got him on the side of the helmet, and that he was fine, though in the immediate aftermath he put both hands to his face as he lay on the ice.
“The play before that he did quite a hard jab and then all of a sudden the puck is up in the air, you’re catching it, and his stick is in my throat,” Thomas said, by way of explanation. “With less than a minute left in a game and they’re up by four goals, 6-2, I took exception to that.”
That, though, is hardly rare, and is a hallmark of Soderberg in particular. As Claude Julien said, “Carl does that even in practice. That’s just his way. I’m not going to say he’s reckless, but he has no fear. It’s great to see a guy like that, his size, just go in there, get his nose dirty.
“It doesn’t matter what time of game. You tell your players to play till the final whistle. That’s what he does.”
And that’s what he was doing on that play, he said.
“We can’t stop playing, just because the game has like 30 seconds left,” Soderberg said. “We have to try to score the whole way.”
There were six goals that came before that, with two coming in each period from Milan Lucic (2), Thornton, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, and Reilly Smith.
Said former Bruin Brad Boyes, “I know he wanted to play well. He wants to play the way he’s played all season, if not better. This is his old team; he’s got quite a résumé from here, people he knows. It was tough, not only for him maybe not being the way he’s been all year — which has been awesome — but, as a team, we didn’t help him out at all.”
And yet, Thomas seemed to keep something of a sense of humor — perhaps outside of that Soderberg high-stick — throughout the evening. It was the Thornton goal that produced an “Are you kidding me?” directed at the Bruins enforcer. Thomas was, Thornton said, laughing as he said it.
He was laughing again after the game, when asked if he had fun in his first game back in Boston. Thomas — who famously skipped the Bruins post-Stanley Cup trip to the White House — said, “Well, no. I think I might’ve enjoyed myself watching the State of the Union more. No, probably not.”