One of the key components of the Bruins’ success two years ago was absent for the Flyers’ dramatic comeback from an 0-3 series deficit last May in the Eastern Conference Semifinals: Tim Thomas.
Tuukka Rask won the starting job from Thomas midway through last season, but also bears some of the blame for the epic collapse.
Thomas, though, was in rare form as he stopped all 41 shots he faced to record his fifth shutout of the season to get his club past the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-0, on Wednesday night.
It was the first meeting between the teams since the Bruins became the third NHL club to waste that near-ironclad series advantage, ending in a Game 7 defeat in Boston.
Thomas’ performance was backed by a pair of first-period goals by Patrice Bergeron and second-overall draft pick Tyler Seguin, and helped along by a punchless Flyers power play which came up empty in four attempts.
The 36-year-old Michigan native upped his record to 12-2-1, while lowering his NHL-best goals-against average to 1.55 and raising his save percentage to .955.
Milan Lucic added an empty-net goal for the Bruins, who improved to 13-8-2 on the year after having dropped four of their last five coming in.
Sergei Bobrovsky was hardly left out to dry, but still suffered the loss after allowing two goals on 31 shots for Philadelphia, which was blanked for the second time all season and first on home ice. Scott Hartnell was denied on a penalty shot late in the second period, and atypically had the majority of the Flyers’ quality chances.
Though the home team came out charging and nearly scored twice on the opening shift, they inevitably made the first mistake with a penalty less than five minutes in, when Nikolay Zherdev was sent off for tripping.
Less than a minute into the advantage, Bobrovsky was forced to sprawl out and stop a break-in from Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, but Sean O’Donnell swept the rebound out of the crease and right onto the stick of Bergeron, who scored between the rookie goaltender’s arm and body as he tried to slide across.
It was 2-0 for the Bruins with 4:48 left in the opening period when Brad Marchand, stationed at the left point near the boards, found a streaking Michael Ryder. Ryder then dished across the slot on the backhand when Seguin gathered and quickly lifted a shot under the crossbar.
The second period belonged to Thomas, who stopped 15 shots in the first period then turned aside 16 more in the middle 20 minutes.
With David Krejci off for hooking around the 90-second mark, the 2009 Vezina Trophy winner showed the flashes of brilliance that have defined his season thus far, making a pair of lightning-quick saves on chances by Hartnell and Danny Briere.
Roughly four minutes later, Hartnell was alone at the right post, but half-fanned on his opportunity and Thomas was able to dive out and smother it with his arm. He was the beneficiary of some luck a minute after that, when James van Riemsdyk had a half-open net staring him in the face but tripped before he could shoot.
Thomas also wasn’t fooled with 9 1/2 minutes left in the second on a Philadelphia man-advantage when Jeff Carter redirected a pass between his legs and on net. The veteran closed up all avenues and covered up the slick shot.
On a Boston power play with 5 1/2 to go, it was Bobrovsky’s turn to mirror his counterpart as he maintained his cool when Krejci unleashed a one-timer from in tight. Krejci was a difference maker in the contest, something he did not get to do last May when he was lost with a broken wrist for the majority of the seven-game series.
Hartnell then had a prime chance to solve Thomas and get the Flyers back in the game with 2:40 left. He’d been dragged down from behind on a clear breakaway by B’s defenseman Andrew Ference, and on the free shot managed to stay upright as he deked to the backhand. Even though Thomas had to stretch out and stuff the shot, Hartnell pulled the puck so far to the right side that it might not have gone in anyway.
Boston tried to throw a blanket on the Flyers in the third, and managed to do so despite giving up 10 shots and only connecting on seven.
Bobrovsky was pulled for an extra attacker with more than two minutes remaining, but Krejci fed Lucic for the empty-net clincher with 1:48 on the clock.
Notes: Thomas was the first goaltender to shut out the Flyers in Philadelphia since Carey Price in a 1-0 Canadiens victory on April 2…Thomas posted his 21st career whitewash and improved to 9-0-0 on the road, the best road start since Chicago’s Glenn Hall also won his first nine games away from home in 1965-66…The Bruins’ last shutout win in Philadelphia came on December 3, 1997, when Byron Dafoe was in net facing Garth Snow…Jody Shelley and Scott Thornton engaged in a spirited bout more than a minute after Seguin’s goal…These clubs meet again in Boston on December 11.