BOSTON – Tim Thomas might be playing himself off of the trading block and back into the starting goaltender job with the Boston Bruins.
Thomas made 38 saves for his fourth straight victory on Thursday night, leading the Bruins to a 4-1 victory over the Capitals. The 2009 Vezina Trophy winner, who lost his starting job to Tuukka Rask last season, was a foolhardy-failed clearing pass away from his second shutout in four games.
“I’m hoping this isn’t just a hot streak; this is me now,” said Thomas, who had off-season surgery on the labrum in his left hip. “At times last year I felt like I was a one-legged goalie.”
Nathan Horton scored his fourth goal in five games, and No. 2 overall draft pick Tyler Seguin had an assist in his Boston debut as the Bruins beat Washington for the second consecutive game. Michael Ryder and rookie Jordan Caron also scored for Boston, and Patrice Bergeron earned his first points of the season with a pair of assists.
Jason Chimera scored and Semyon Varlamov stopped 30 shots for the Capitals.
The Bruins played in Prague, New Jersey and Washington before coming home to a sold-out crowd eager to forget last season’s unprecedented collapse in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers. The fans were also treated to a first look at Seguin, Boston’s most promising rookie since Joe Thornton.
But the surprise star was Thomas, who made the U.S. Olympic team but lost his starting job in Boston to Rask. The Bruins have reportedly been trying to trade Thomas and the US$15 million they owe him over the next three years, but now it might be difficult to take him out of the lineup.
“I understand that me and Tuukka are a tandem,” Thomas said. “There’s room enough for both of us to play. I’m not putting myself in the coach’s shoes; I’m just playing as well as I can when I’m told to play.”
Rask hasn’t played since losing the season opener 5-2. And Thomas said he’s feeling better now than he has at any time since the lockout year of 2004-05, when he played in Finland and recorded a league-record 15 shutouts in 54 games while leading Jokerit to the finals.
“It’s just Timmy,” Bergeron said. “That’s the way he is. He’s battled his whole life, his whole career. He’s showing that again.”
Thomas was headed for his second shutout this season until he left the crease to play a slow-moving puck coming into the Boston zone and spotted Blake Wheeler with a chance for a breakaway against the line-changing Capitals. Thomas’ pass was intercepted by Chimera, who easily beat the out-of-position goalie to make it 3-1.
“Wheels deserves a goal,” Thomas said. “I wanted to get him the puck. I just got greedy. I should have played the puck out and kept it simple.”
Seguin helped make it 1-0 when he set up Ryder’s goal with 28 seconds left in the first period—one of three power-play goals against the Capitals, who hadn’t allowed any in 25 penalty-killing opportunities over their first six games this season. Bergeron’s pass from behind the net set up Caron to make it 2-0 at 2:22 of the second.
Horton added another power-play goal with 7:44 left in the middle period, putting a shot through Varlamov’s pads to make it 3-0.
After Chimera put Washington on the board, Zdeno Chara’s slap shot from the right circle with 15.9 seconds left made it 4-1.
“It’s pretty tough to come back against this team when their goalie is playing like that with a three-nothing lead,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We had lots of chances to score. We just … didn’t.”
It was the Bruins’ first victory in Boston since Game 2 of the conference semifinals last spring, when they opened a three-game lead over Philadelphia before the Flyers forced a seventh game. Boston took a 3-0 lead in Game 7 before losing the clincher, and the series, 4-3.
NOTES: Steven Tyler sang the national anthem and between periods donated a custom motorcycle for a charity auction. … The only team to start a season without giving up a power-play goal for the first seven games was the 2008-09 Minnesota Wild, who killed off 22 power plays during that span. … Horton and Milan Lucic each have a point in every game this season.