RBC CENTER, RALEIGH—The last time these two goalies met head-to-head, Tim Thomas fell on his rear end.

Brandon Sutter, seen here in a March 2010 tilt, could not solve Tim Thomas in Bostons 3-2 win in Raleigh after the All-Star break.
  • File photo by Peggy Boone
  • Brandon Sutter, seen here in a March 2010 tilt, could not solve Tim Thomas in Boston’s 3-2 win in Raleigh after the All-Star break.

Thomas was the difference Tuesday night, however, as the Boston Bruins held off the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 as the league returned to action after the exhilaration of Raleigh’s All-Star break.

Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton scored just over a minute apart early in the third period, and hardest-shot champion Zdeno Chara had two assists, as Boston won here by the same score as their most recent visit on January 18.

Jamie McBain and Joe Corvo tallied for the Canes, and Sergei Samsonov and Erik Cole each registered a pair of assists.

But this game was a battle of goalies, and Thomas avenged his loss to Cam Ward in Saturday’s fastest-skater competition with something more satisfying—two points in the standings. Playoff bracket-watchers will be relieved to know that the Atlanta Thrashers, who visit Raleigh on Saturday night, also lost.

For a while, it seemed like no one would score. The teams combined for 25 shots in the first period—15 by Boston—but no goals. Only 30 seconds in, Zdeno Chara stepped into a point shot comparable to his 105.9mph winner from the hardest-shot contest, but Ward gloved it almost nonchalantly. Chara accumulated eight shots on goal, and sent about as many wide trying to create tips and rebounds off the back boards, as the Canes chose to remain tight to their goalie throughout the night.

Boston skaters, however, played aggressively at the top of their zone, creating rushes and even a handful of breakaways off Canes point shots that they blocked with their shin pads.

Chara’s persistence paid off about four minutes into the second period as Daniel Paille deflected a puck past Ward for his first goal of the season.

Sergei Samsonov, who always seems to bring his best game against his former team, created an opportunity that tied the game, brilliantly dragging the puck laterally across the Boston zone, through backwards-skating defenders, waiting for Jamie McBain to get to the side of the net. Samsonov’s delay drew Thomas out enough that McBain could push the puck into the net once Samsonov passed it.

The Canes seemed energized by the goal and sustained some formidable pressure in the Boston zone, but Thomas stiffened. Although ‘stiffened’ is not the best word—Thomas uncoiled an acrobatic move to rob Brandon Sutter in the blue ice of the crease. Coach Paul Maurice reflected on it afterwards, “The save he made on Sutter, when he makes the spin-o-rama in the air… You can’t describe it, but you can certainly appreciate how good he’s been.”

The game got away from Carolina during a swift sequence early in the third period.

Three-and-a-half minutes in, Eric Staal blew down the wing and faked an open shot. Thomas bit on the fake and went down, but he somehow got some of his equipment in the way of Staal’s shot from along the goal line.

Chara gathered the rebound, David Krejci carried it behind Carolina’s net, and Nathan Horton one-timed a pass over Ward’s shoulder into the opposite corner. It was the first goal in eleven games for the player drafted right after Staal, third overall, in 2003.

Taken aback, the Canes fell behind 3-1 a shift later, as Andrew Ference unleashed a slapshot from one point that Ward kicked out to Patrice Bergeron at the other. Bergeron’s response bounced under Ward and in.

Carolina got one back in the final moments of a power play three minutes later. Joe Corvo glided backwards along the blueline, waiting for a shooting lane to open. When Thomas peeked around the wrong side of Erik Cole in front of the net, Corvo fired the puck in to pull the Canes within a goal.

But Thomas did not make another mistake.

Jiri Tlusty had a golden chance off a Sutter pass on a 2-on-1 with 7:30 left, but Thomas tumbled enough that Tlusty only found the goal post. Two minutes later, a frantic scramble suddenly parted and Patrick Dwyer was left alone in the crease with the puck, but Thomas kicked the shot out despite the rest of his body leaning in the other direction.

Sergei Samsonov expressed resigned frustration about Thomas’ play after the game. “It looks like a good opportunity. A lot of times you feel like he’s out of position but he’s not. It’s deceiving.”

Carolina’s last, best chance came with 3:30 left, as Cole’s sharp wrist shot and Sutter’s play on the rebound failed. Thomas reached up from his belly to deny Sutter.

In the first period, shortly after he missed a tip chance and skated frantically back to the other end of the ice to foil Brad Marchand on a 2-on-1, Jussi Jokinen left the game with a lower-body injury and did not return.