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Thomas prepped for repeat Bruins, top goaltender in shape for long run

The Bruins were already locked into the second seed with two games remaining, which allowed goaltender Tim Thomas to take an extended rest. He didn't take the final road trip to Ottawa and gave up three goals on 28 shots against Buffalo in season finale that amounted to a scrimmage.

Thomas should be better when the stakes grow higher given how he played in the postseason last year. He won three Game Sevens, two by shutout, none bigger than the last. He stopped all 37 shots to lift the Bruins to a 4-0 victory over the Canucks and their first Stanley Cup since 1972.

He allowed eight goals in seven games in the finals and walked away with the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP. He went 16-9, with a 1.98 GAA and .940 save percentage in the Cup run. . He took home the Vezina Trophy after going 35-11-9 with a 2.00 GAA and .938 SP during the regular season.

It can't get much better.

No wonder Thomas spent his recent down time watching video from the playoffs last season. He was looking to get back into the proper frame of mind before facing the Capitals in Game One tonight in TD Garden. He was hoping to regain the form that made him a dominant player and the difference for the Bruins last year.

Boston's lineup remains mostly intact with Patrice Bergeron leading a group of sound two-way forwards, Zdeno Chara leading the defense, winger Milan Lucic leading with his left hand and feisty winger Brad Marchand leading with his chin. It's difficult to imagine them losing four times to a soft, disjointed team such as Washington.

"We like the way that we're playing right now," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "If you look back at last year, I thought we got better as the playoffs progressed. We're hoping that's going to be the case again this year."

Here's a look at four playoff series beginning tonight with New Jersey and Florida starting Friday.

Boston (2) vs. Washington (7)

Bruins update: Boston was the third seed last year en route to the Cup. The Bruins overcame their Cup hangover, took off on a 23-3-1 tear, lost six of eight games in March and took a 9-2-1 run into the postseason. Tyler Seguin, who had a limited role in the playoffs last year as a rookie, led them with 29 goals and 67 points this year. The Bruins had six 20-goal scorers in all. Bergeron, Chara and Chris Kelly combined for plus-102. Boston had 25 wins on the road, tied with Philadelphia for most in the league.

Capitals update: Washington isn't going anywhere unless Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green are near the top of their games. All four can dominate when willing. Ovechkin had his game in order late in the season, but it's been a long time since he made a difference in big games. They're not sure if Tomas Vokoun or Michal Neuvirth, both sidelined with injuries, will be ready. Goaltending duties could fall on Braden Holtby. Once again, it's a tall order for a rookie.

Outlook: The Capitals for years have been included among preseason favorites to win the Cup, but they continue to slide backward. The Bruins figured out what was needed to win and should roll in five games.

New York (1) vs. Ottawa (8)

Rangers update: The Blueshirts were atop the NHL standings for most of the season before losing their final two games with the conference title locked up. Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards are stars. The Rangers win because they effectively roll four lines, are sound defensively and have a premier goalie in Henrik Lundqvist. They allowed only 187 goals, the only team in the East to give up less than 200. Ryan Callahan's effort is unmatched, but his 29 goals and 54 points proved he can score, too.

Senators update: Ottawa was one of the surprise teams in the East after rebuilding and getting back into the playoffs in less than a year. Jason Spezza carried the Sens this season with his best year (34 goals, 84 points, 80 GP) since 2007-08. Erik Karlsson emerged this year as a top NHL defenseman and the best playmaker at the position. Milan Michalek had a career-high 35 goals this season. Their lack of depth could be a problem, and nobody knows what to expect from goalie Craig Anderson.

Outlook: The Rangers are planning to go deep into the postseason. The Sens, who lost their last three games, are fortunate to be in the postseason. Rangers in five.

St. Louis (2) vs. San Jose (7)

Blues update: Coach Ken Hitchcock turned a struggling team into a division champ that finished with the third-best record in the league. Hitch stressed defense and had a superb goaltending tandem in Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. They combined for a 1.89 GAA and .932 SP. The Blues win with balanced scoring, team defense and effort. They didn't have a scorer in the top 70 this season and were 19th on the PP, but they allowed the fewest goals in the league and had a very good PK that was seventh.

Sharks update: San Jose is making its 12th postseason appearance in 13 years. It reached the conference finals the last two seasons but has never played for the Cup. Finishing seventh and playing the inexperienced Blues rather than third (and facing Chicago) could be a blessing. Joe Thornton has a reputation for vanishing in the postseason but showed up last year. He has only 18 goals in 109 career playoff games. Their top six forwards and top four defensemen are solid.

Outlook: The series will likely come down to whether San Jose's power play can be effective against St. Louis' penalty kill. Look for the Sharks to steal the opener and win the series in seven.

Phoenix (3) vs. Chicago (6)

Coyotes update: Phoenix, after winning its first division title, is still looking to win a playoff series for the first time since the franchise moved from Winnipeg in 1996. Goalie Mike Smith, who allowed two goals during a five-game winning streak to end the season, can carry them. He nearly more than doubled his previous career high with 38 wins this season and had a 2.21 GAA and .931 SP this season, putting in the NHL's top seven in both categories. They need their secondary scorers, thin on production, to come through.

Blackhawks update: Jonathan Toews was a top player before suffering a concussion that sidelined him for the final 22 games. Chicago, 13-5-4 without him, wasn't sure if he would play Game One. Marian Hossa is coming off another good year. South Buffalo's Patrick Kane had a career-low 66 points (23 goals) but became a more complete player this season. He has 20 goals and 48 points in 45 career playoff games and loves the big stage. Their once-shaky defense appears stable, but their goaltending does not.

Outlook: The Blackhawks were better all year and will have a bigger advantage if Toews returns. Blackhawks in six.

Florida (3) vs. New Jersey (6)

Panthers update: GM Dale Tallon and coach Kevin Dineen deserve heavy praise for building their first playoff team since 1999-00 and first division winner ever, but the Panthers are Exhibit A for what's wrong with the NHL's postseason seedings. They won the Southeast with the seventh-best record in the conference. Their minus-24 goal differential was 11th in the East and 21st in the league. Thomas Fleischmann (21) was the only player who had more than 15 goals this season at even strength.

Devils update: They caught a break by finishing sixth and not higher, avoiding Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, but it wasn't as if the Devils backed into this position. They won their final six games. Ilya Kovalchuk had 37 goals and 84 points, his best year since 2008-09 when he had 91 points (43 goals) with Atlanta. Henrik Tallinder is likely sidelined for the season. Rookie Adam Henrique and David Clarkson are two forwards you hear less about but could make a difference. Martin Brodeur in playoffs: 99-82, 2.01 GAA, .919 SP.

Outlook: The Devils are better in virtually every area and even had more wins on the road (24) than the Panthers had at home (21). New Jersey in five.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com