By Mike Miccoli
Before the Florida Panthers and the Boston Bruins could drop the puck on Thursday’s game, Claude Julien’s simple answer to a question about a former teammate set the tone for the entire night.
“They’d be right,” said Julien, when asked if the Bruins don’t win a Stanley Cup without Tim Thomas. He went on a bit further.
“Tim Thomas doesn’t win the Stanley Cup, if our team doesn’t play as well as they did in front of him,” finished the Bruins’ head coach. “So, this is an honest statement: Tim played well but I think our team played just as well in front of him.”
Forget what he said about Thomas. Julien set the tone by stressing the importance of playing as a team, in order to be successful. It was a common theme that came full circle. The Bruins needed to go back to the basics and play their game in order to win. After a bumpy first period, it’s exactly what they did.
All four lines played an integral role in the Bruins’ win 4-1 over the Panthers on Thursday, even if the team didn’t really come to life until the second period. Still, it started in the first when Gregory Campbell dropped the gloves with Jesse Winchester, after the Panther went unpenalized following a high-elbow to the face of Chris Kelly. Even though Kelly didn’t miss a shift and later called Winchester “one of the nicest guys in the league,” the response from Campbell didn’t go unnoticed.
“Awesome that Soup [Campbell] steps up for me and goes out there and takes care of business,” said Kelly after the game. It was just one of many instances of a Bruin sticking up for another.
The scoring opened up in the second when the Bruins got on the board following a David Krejci shot from the point. In the third, Brad Marchand got the monkey off of his back literally, as seen in his goal celebration, scoring his second goal of the season. Later, Torey Krug and Reilly Smith added insurance tallies bookending Winchester’s late third period goal that put the Panthers on the scoreboard. All the while, Tuukka Rask was patrolling his crease, stopping 23 of 24 shots.
It was as total of a team effort that the Bruins had seen in some time and a step in the right direction for a Boston club that has looked lethargic and unmotivated in the last few games.
“I don’t want to say a fragile team but we’re not at the level that we want to be at,” said Kelly. “It kind of showed in the first period. I think that the effort was there from everyone. It was just somewhat of the execution maybe wasn’t and we stuck with it and stuck with the game plan. I thought we got better as the game went on.
“The strength of this hockey team is how deep we are and how every line can contribute at some point. It’s nice when the scoring is spread out because it makes us a better team.”
Still, it’s hard to ignore the narrative of Tim Thomas. The former two-time Vezina Trophy winner, Conn Smythe recipient, and all around pseudo-feel-good story was back in Boston for the first time since the Bruins lost against the Washington Capitals in Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
After making an appearance in the TD Garden press box halfway through the third period, the Bruins aired a brief montage of Thomas’ highlight reel saves and moments as a Bruin. It was a nice touch as the former Bruins goaltender stood and acknowledged the crowd by waving with the majority of 17,565 at TD Garden giving him a standing ovation right back.
More impressive were the current roster of Bruins who banged their sticks on the bench as a nod to their former teammate. The same teammate that some of them played in front of to win a Stanley Cup.
As a team.
It was a sign of mutual respect, reflecting if only for a second on what they did together. All parties have moved on but for that moment, the Bruins and Tim Thomas were a team again. They always were.
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