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October 17, 2013

BRUINS BEAR DOWN ON THOMAS: Reilly Smith Scores with 58.7 Seconds Left, Boston Downs Panthers 3-2

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

New Panthers goalie Tim Thomas said he approached Thursday's game like any other. His shaking body in the moments after a hard-fought 3-2 loss to his former teammates belied Thomas' words.

This one stung.

"It hurts the way ended up,'' Thomas said minutes after Reilly Smith -- one of the few Bruins on the ice Thomas hadn't shared a locker room with -- trickled a backhanded shot through for the game winner.

"I really wanted the guys who played in front of me to be rewarded.''

Thomas turned away a lot of pucks in his seven-plus seasons with the Bruins -- he's credited with over 12,000 saves wearing the spoked-B -- yet but it didn't take long for them to turn the tables on their Stanley Cup winning goalie.

Thomas may not have looked like his vintage self early, but he sure did as the game went on. Thomas, back after missing a week with a groin injury, made 37 saves as he kept the Panthers in the game. At times, Thomas was all Florida had.

"If it wasn't for Timmie, the game wouldn't have been this close'' said Kris Versteeg, who scored Florida's first goal in the second period to cut the Panthers' deficit in half. "He played for great for us.''

Boston took the first lead 3:45 into the game when Daniel Paille charged through the Florida defense and roofed a shot past Thomas.

The Bruins' second goal of the first came on the power play as Dougie Hamilton flung a shot from 55 feet away. Thomas, blocked down low by old pal Zdeno Chara, never saw this puck coming and it was 2-0 with 7:13 left in the first.

"That first may have been our worst period of the year which was really surprising to us,'' coach Kevin Dineen said of a rough opening period for the Panthers, one in which they were outshot 15-8 and didn't challenge Tuukka Rask with a shot in the final nine minutes of the frame.

"We played well the rest of the game. We pushed hard in the third, carried some momentum. .-.-. We ended up fighting back the rest of the night. When we play hard and a workmanlike game, we can play with anyone in the league. Tonight's another hard lesson that it needs to be a full 60 minute game.''

Florida hung on thanks to Thomas and crawled back into it when Versteeg fired a shot from the right circle with Tomas Kopecky slamming into Rask at just the right time.

The Panthers didn't get much else going, but tied it with six minutes remaining as Jesse Winchester -- out of the NHL last year -- fired a shot at Rask then stayed after it. Winchester saw the puck crawl away from Rask and he pounced, chopping it into the net.

Florida played tough defense for much of the second and third to tie the score.

"It's unfortunate the way it ended,'' Versteeg said. "It's a [crummy] feeling to lose, especially when you come back like that. Hopefully we can change that Saturday.''

Thursday's game looked like it was heading to overtime -- somewhere the Panthers have yet to be this season -- before Smith backhanded a soft shot that Thomas called a "tough one."

As the Bruins celebrated, the Panthers hung their heads. Thursday's loss was Florida's sixth out of eight this season and third straight since upsetting the Penguins in last Friday's home opener.

"It certainly was different playing against guys who you played with for so long,'' Thomas said. "I tried treating it as another game. But having said that, it was a big game for me coming back after awhile and playing guys .-.-. There's was a big to-do about it. I was a little nervous today, but not too bad.''

--The announced attendance for the defending Eastern Conference champions was a disappointing 14,440.

 

TIM THOMAS RETURNS FOR BRUINS: Florida Panthers Face Defending East Champs Tonight

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Tim Thomas will make what he hopes is a triumphant return to the Panthers net tonight when the Panthers play host to the Bruins.

"It's a good thing, a good storyline and it's exciting for our team to have Tim in net,'' Dineen said after this morning's skate in Sunrise. "He's been out for a week and I think you always get excited to play your old team. I get excited when we play the Whalers. No, it's a good thing.''

The Panthers raised some eyebrows Wednesday when they tweeted that Thomas would be in goal against his former team.

Dineen said today that he had nothing to do with that tweet -- as we expected -- although he wasn't against it.

"That was the first time someone else announced who would start and you know what? I'm excited,'' Dineen said. "Our fanbase, to see Tim, I think there's a great buzz coming out of New England as he faces his former team. There's no problems with me there.''

Dineen knows the Panthers have been selling this game for weeks and need Thomas in net to sell more tickets.

That said, Dineen said Thomas wouldn't be in there if he wasn't healthy.

"I wouldn't play him if he wasn't [100 percent],'' Dineen said. "He had two good practices with the team, worked on the ice when we were in Nashville. He's ready to go.''

The Panthers have been pulling out all the stops in trying to get more Boston fans in the building. Although team president Michael Yormark tweeted "support your cats tonight .-.-. We need you there," this morning, the team is obviously pandering to Boston fans to fill the arena.

The team not only has a three-game 'Tim Thomas Pack' which includes tickets to both Boston games this season, but the team will put tonight's Red Sox-Tigers playoff game on televisions throughout the concourse.

NHL games, as well as the Heat preseason game and the Hurricanes' game in North Carolina, will be available in Club Red and in the Duffy's bar atop the arena.

Thomas left Florida's game in Philadelphia last week with a slight groin pull. Thomas didn't practice the following Wednesday in Tampa but has been on the ice since. He didn't travel to Nashville but stayed behind and continued to workout.

Thomas told the Panthers PR staff on Wednesday that he wouldn't be talking to the media until postgame tonight.

That didn't prevent a large crush of media from descending on the Panthers locker room this morning. Tim Thomas taking on the Bruins is a big deal in South Florida, Boston -- and beyond.

"Everyone has to step it up tonight, this one is going to be on the highlight reel,'' Scottie Upshall said.

"We have to play well defensively for him. If we play good defense and do simple things, he's going to look good and we're going to look good. We're playing one of the best teams in the league. Hopefully we have a good outcome.''

-- Dineen said the Panthers would continue to carry three goalies at least through tonight before deciding what to do. Scott Clemmensen could be back in San Antonio if Thomas looks sharp out there tonight.

Jacob Markstrom will be tonight's backup with Clemmensen sitting this one out.

-- There was an incorrect report out there this morning stating that defenseman Ed Jovanovski had been taken off the injured list. Jovanovski says he hopes to be back in the next few weeks.

-- Upshall said it sucked to be a healthy scratch against Nashville on Tuesday and that he thinks he needs to become "a pest." Upshall is back in the lineup tonight with Krys Barch and Ryan Whitney apparently the scratches.

"My play warranted being a healthy scratch,'' said Upshall, who had an assist in the season opener. "I have to come out tonight and be the best player on the ice. That's what they expect. The coaches want me to be an impact player and I haven't been. I feel great.''

Photo via floridapanthers.com