Sunrise, Fla. — Over a year of controversy and anticipation came down to just the final 59 seconds of Thursday night’s game as a bouncing puck made its’ way past Panthers’ goaltender Tim Thomas to give his former team, the Boston Bruins, a heartbreaking 3-2 victory in front of a divided crowd at the BB&T Center.
Thomas, a longtime staple of the professional sports culture in Boston, suited up for the first time against the Bruins since his controversial decision to take a leave of absence following the 2011-2012 season. While with the Bruins, Thomas earned a 921 SV% / 2.48 GAA with a career record of 196-121-45 in 378 games played.
Based on his history with Boston – both positive and negative – it suffices to say that this wasn’t just a normal regular season matchup by any means for either party involved.
“It certainly was different playing against guys you played with for so long,” Thomas said. “I tried to approach this like any other game but having said that, it was a big game for me coming back after a while and obviously facing your former team.”
On the other end of the ice, Thomas’ former teammate, David Krejci, made it clear that the Bruins had moved on from the enigmatic net minder and that winning was at the forefront of their collective minds.
“It was good times, but now he’s on the other side,” said Krejci. “We are going to try everything we can to put some pucks behind him.”
Early on in Thursday night’s action it looked as if Krejci’s plan to dismantle Thomas would go off without a hitch. At 3:45 in the first period, the Bruins took the lead as Daniel Paille charged past Panthers’ defenseman Erik Gudbranson and roofed a shot past a vulnerable Thomas.
Roughly ten minutes later, the Bruins would notch their second goal of the first period as defenseman Dougie Hamilton sent a bomb from he blue line past Thomas who never saw it coming as Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara used his large frame to blind the Florida goaltender from the action.
“That first may have been our worst period of the year which was really surprising to us,” Panthers’ Head Coach Kevin Dineen said of the team’s volatile play during the first twenty minutes of action.
“The way his stick was angled, the way the puck went up, it kind of wasn’t laying exactly flat,” Thomas said of Smith’s game winning goal. “I thought he was going high blocker with it. It was enough to get me to move my stick away and open up and get me to take away that upper blocker and that was … a tough one.”
“It hurts the way it ended. I wanted the guys in front of me to be rewarded the way they played the last two periods.”
Even in a loss, Thomas showed signs of brilliance and played one of his best games in a Panther uniform thus far – making 37 total saves on the night.
However, on a team with a new owner and playoff hopes, moral victories no longer carry as much weight as they used to. With Thursday night’s loss, the Panthers have now dropped six out of their first eight games to begin their 2013-2014 campaign and will need to gather themselves quickly before facing off against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night.
Perhaps the feelings of both Thomas and the entire Panthers’ team were summed up best by Head Coach Kevin Dineen following Thursday’s loss.
“There’s lots of stinging tonight,” Dineen said. “There’s nothing to say right now.”
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