December 20, 2011

Quirky Thomas gets medieval on Habs

By Andrew Merritt

BOSTON – “Stronger ’til dawn, like Lancelot.”

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas earned his 16th win of the season on Monday. (Getty) It’s hard to anticipate exactly what’s going to come out of a goalie’s mouth, especially when that goalie is Tim Thomas. The Bruin netminder has wowed fans with his play on ice, won two Vezina Trophies, a Jennings Trophy, and of course a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy during his time in Boston. He’s done so with an inimitable style that confounds just about every stodgy hockey purist from Vancouver to Montreal.

Off-ice, he can be just as quirky.

After Monday night’s 3-2 win over Montreal, in which he stopped 33 of 35 Canadien shots, Thomas held court for reporters in front of his locker stall. He answered most of the routine questions, well, routinely. Then a reporter asked him about the team’s ability to hold on to third-period leads, since the B’s withstood the Montreal assault after taking a 3-1 lead in the third, albeit not without giving up a goal to Erik Cole with 1:14 to go.

“I don’t know, well, probably because we just try to play every period just the same, not put an over-emphasis on, ‘oh, this is the third period,’” he said “We have confidence that we get stronger as the game goes along.”

And then Thomas took the small gathering of scribes for a spin through history.

“Stronger ‘til dawn, like Lancelot,” he said, then looked at one reporter left bewildered by the reference. “You know Lancelot, the knight? The real duels they had, some of them would go all night, because they had so much armor and they were so heavy, they could hardly move. Legend is that he just kept getting stronger the longer it went, so that’s what I mean by that.”

While the quote is prime material for ad hoc T-shirts, and could plausibly end up an unofficial slogan for a team that has several on its dressing room wall, it wasn’t without reason.

The Bruins are undefeated when taking a two-goal lead this year (17-0-0), and have the same record when leading after the second periods. Their killer instinct has served them well, especially on nights like Monday, when they seemed to hit a lull in the second period.

“I didn’t like the fact that we only had a one-goal lead against this team,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “They always give us a hard game. They always give us a real good challenge, so when you have a one-goal lead against that team, it’s not something you want to sit on.

“Our motto has always been create the lead, and then once you create it, you’ve got to work to extend the lead, and we did that tonight, and thank goodness for that, because they came back and scored a late goal.”

The line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin looked disjointed early in the game, a somewhat ominous sign considering the usually electrifying trio has combined for just five goals in eight games in December.

“Part of it was us not taking the body, not being first on the puck,” Bergeron said. “We gave them too much time there and they created some offense and some play out of it.

Then it combined for the play of the game and the eventual game winner. Bergeron made a good pinch on Travis Moen just inside the Canadien zone, and although he didn’t win the puck away cleanly, Seguin was there to pick it up and run, dashing for the net before feeding Marchand for a pretty backhander to make it 3-1 Boston with 5:46 to go.

It was a big play then, and even bigger four and a half minutes later when Cole cut the B’s lead to 1.

“I thought our third period was much better and that’s where we found our gear and we were executing and being first on the puck,” Bergeron said. “That’s how we got that turnover there for the goal.”

Thomas was also at his best in the third, including a huge sequence at the 3:42 mark, in which he stopped a Mathieu Darche drive, kicked away Darche’s rebound attempt, then tracked Tomas Kaberle on the second rebound and stopped the former Bruin’s backhander in traffic. He made 16 saves in the third, including seven over the final 10 minutes.

After his “stronger ’til dawn” play, and his brief dissertation on medieval legend, one reporter mused that “Lancelot” might find its way into the lexicon as a new nickname for the Michigan-born, Vermont-educated goaltender.

He balked at the idea.

“I don’t know how you’re going to put that one on me,” he said with a grin. “It probably won’t fit with ‘Tank.’”