Technically, Tim Thomas had returned to Boston before as a visitor (Nov. 7), but at that time he was out with an injury. Tuesday, he was in the net for all six goals as the Bruins (34-15-3) rolled over the hapless Panthers (21-25-7), 6-2, at TD Garden.
A video tribute for him was played in November and he received plenty of applause, so by Tuesday, it was clear that the B’s had moved on from their former franchise goaltender.
“When we were doing the scouting report on him, I just looked at him as the opposing goaltender,” admitted Bruins head coach Claude Julien. “Eventually you kind of turn the page.”
Thomas chose to leave Boston and take a year off from hockey. Now he’s toiling away with a team that’s constantly rebuilding, in a market that couldn’t care less about hockey.
This is the first time since January 2012 that the Bruins have scored 18 goals in three games. Interestingly enough, they have potted six in wins over the Flyers, Islanders and Panthers. Eleven players for Boston had points, led by the first line of David Krejci (1 goal, 2 assists), Milan Lucic (2 goals) and Jarome Iginla (2 assists). This one was never in doubt as Boston built a 2-0 lead in the first (goals by Lucic and Krejci) then a 4-0 lead in the second (goals by Lucic and Reilly Smith) before Florida showed any signs of life.
The Panthers scored the next two goals but then Shawn Thornton turned in the highlight reel tally: bouncing away from two Panthers in the corner then driving to the net and beating Thomas with a backhander. As Julien noted with a laugh, “we’ll be hearing about that for a week.”
The Bruins are 5-0-1 in their last six games with five more remaining before the Olympic break (Feb. 7-25). Julien didn’t want to feed into the hype but the Canadiens make their first visit to the Garden this season Thursday (7 p.m., NESN).
What they'll be saying: It is partially the product of facing some really bad teams (Islanders, Panthers) but you have to admit that the Bruins are playing their best hockey of the season. Different players and lines seem to step up every game which has helped them knock off some playoff teams (Kings, Flyers) as well and also earn a point in Chicago.
Short of getting pulled, which easily could have happened, Thomas (35 saves) had about as poor a return as you could imagine. At age 39 (turning 40 in April), you have to wonder if this will be his last season in the NHL. Whatever the case, it is a sad ending to a uniquely great career. Needless to say, when people look back at Thomas, they won’t remember his time in Florida.
Smith’s goal gave him the team lead (18) over Brad Marchand while Lucic’s marker means Boston has four players with 15+ goals (Smith, Marchand, Lucic and Iginla) with Patrice Bergeron nearby (14). Krejci is running away with the team assist title: he has 34 and the next closest is Smith with 22.
Earlier in the day, Chris Kelly was activated while Ryan Spooner and Zach Trotman were assigned to Providence. Kelly had missed 22 games, he last appeared in the 3-2 win over Pittsburgh on Dec. 7 (when Thornton attacked Brooks Orpik). Kelly started on the fourth line but Julien put him back on the third line in the third period, he skated 15:22 (1:19 shorthanded) with three shots on goal and one hit.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate:@RichSlate