- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

WILMINGTON, MASS. (AP) - Tim Thomas came out of playoff hibernation and played better than any goalie this season. Now, he’ll try to be just as sharp in the postseason for the Boston Bruins.

Carey Price spent most of last year’s playoffs on the bench. Then, he started 70 games for the Montreal Canadiens.

Another postseason starts Thursday in one of the NHL’s richest rivalries and the goalies who didn’t matter just a year ago loom as major factors.

“The situation’s totally different,” Thomas said Wednesday after a light practice lasting about 45 minutes. “That’s the way it is in this game. Every year’s different and a new opportunity.”

Thomas sat out the playoffs last year with a left hip injury that required surgery. Tuukka Rask started all 13 games in his place and seemed set to keep the No. 1 job. But Rask had little chance as Thomas finished first in the NHL with a 2.00 goals against average, a .938 save percentage and a .718 winning percentage and second with nine shutouts.

Now, he’s a favorite to win his second Vezina Trophy in three years.

“I don’t think he was 100 percent healthy last year and it really didn’t help his play,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “What you saw this year is what you saw two years ago, when he won the Vezina.”

Price lost his job in the middle of last season to Jaroslav Halak and started just one of Montreal’s 18 playoff games. But when Halak was traded to the St. Louis Blues less than a month after the Canadiens‘ season ended, Price took over. He finished third in the league with eight shutouts, seventh with a .923 save percentage and 10th with a 2.35 goals against average.

“He could have easily pouted and been a distraction” in last year’s playoffs, Montreal’s Scott Gomez said. “He stayed after (practice), took extra shots. He was always positive, always talking. You’ve had backups when they’re upset, you know it. Not this guy. He didn’t even make it an issue.”

The Canadiens, seeded eighth going into the Eastern Conference playoffs last year, overcame a 3-1 deficit and eliminated the top-seeded Washington Capitals in seven games. Then, they knocked off the defending-champion Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games after trailing 3-2, before being eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in the conference finals in five games.

“We definitely learned some things as a team, especially that series against Washington,” Price said. “When we got down like that, we just played with no fear. And I think that’s how we’ve got to go into these playoffs.”

The sixth-seeded Canadiens were 4-2 against the third-seeded Bruins this season, winning once in overtime, but Boston won the last meeting, 7-0 at home.

And there was plenty of physical play.

On Feb. 9 in Boston, the Bruins won 8-6 in a game with 45 penalties for 182 minutes. On March 8 in Montreal, the Canadiens won 4-1, a victory overshadowed by Zdeno Chara’s hard hit that drove Max Pacioretty into a stanchion between the team’s benches. Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion and a cracked vertebra.

“It’s not about all the other stuff that’s taken place or what’s happened this year,” Montreal’s Brian Gionta said. “It’s about who can win the four games.”

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