BOSTON — Lightning coach Guy Boucher talked a lot about how Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas was an "enigma," a battler tough to crack because he can stop the puck with any part of his body.
The finalist for the Vezina Trophy was brilliant at times during Saturday's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final. Thomas made some spectacular saves, including sprawled-out stops with his glove on scoring chances by Vinny Lecavalier and Steve Downie to help keep Boston in the game.
But for all the hype, Thomas was also human in the Bruins' 5-2 loss to the Lightning. He matched his playoff high by allowing four goals (the final Lightning goal was an empty-netter), including one on a seemingly innocent backhander by defenseman Brett Clark in the first period. The goal was the second in 19 seconds for the Lightning, which Boston center David Krejci said took a lot of the momentum.
With the Lightning ahead 1-0, Clark made an end-to-end rush before flipping a backhander from the bottom of the right circle through Thomas.
"It went right armpit," Thomas said. "Backhanders are always a little bit harder to tell where they're going to go. First, I was looking for who he was going to pass it to, and then I was trying to figure out who he was.
"You know some other people's tendencies. I was just trying to put my chest in the center of the net. It was just a seeing-eye puck."
The four goals allowed by Thomas not only were his playoff high, it matched the amount he gave up in his previous three games combined. There wasn't much Thomas could do on Tampa Bay's first goal, by Sean Bergenheim off a rebound.
"They got it through from the point, got a tip from the point, got a rebound from the point and then another one to score," Thomas said.
Just 1:06 after Clark's goal, Thomas allowed another one when defenseman Tomas Kaberle lost the puck as he tried to make a move behind the Bruins net. Lightning wing Teddy Purcell got it into the net after two attempts to put Tampa Bay up 3-0.
"It's a tough hole to get out of," Thomas said. "Two would have been better. When we went down 2-0, I was thinking, 'Okay, I'm just going to make this like Game 2 (of the Flyers series, when Boston trailed 2-0 early and won 3-2 in overtime).
" 'I'm just going to hold it at two, and we'll come back and win this game.' The third goal was a surprise, a bad bounce goal. And that made it more difficult."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.