Those Bear necessities

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:54 AM ET

The Calgary Flames don't see the Boston Bruins often.

That said, tonight's opposition from Beantown may seem familiar to the homeside.

Not just because former teammates Stephane Yelle and Andrew Ference will be staring at them across the ice, either.

The Bruins are starting to mimic the Flames' recent turnaround with strong goaltending and improved defensive play of late.

Tim Thomas earned back-to-back 1-0 shutout wins in Edmonton and Vancouver on Monday and Tuesday night, and could start again tonight against the Flames after those two impressive performances.

"They've had good success now with the two shutouts," said Flames head coach Mike Keenan. "Any team that can go on the road and shut out teams back to back is impressive."

Looking for one of their netminders to take a firm grip on the No. 1 role, Bruins head coach Claude Julien had been rotating Thomas and Manny Fernandez on a game-to-game basis.

Well, the 34-year-old journeyman Thomas can't stake a better claim than the way he's played on the trip so far.

He made 31 saves Tuesday against the Canucks after stopping 27 against the Oilers with little time to rest in between.

"The credit that this guy deserves is that he battles and he never quits," Julien told reporters in Vancouver. "There are so many times where it seemed like an open net and the first thing you know he battles back and makes a save. That's his forte. He takes advantage of that.

"He certainly motivates our club when he makes those kind of saves."

Much the way Miikka Kiprusoff motivates the Flames when he's on top of his game.

He earned his first shutout of the season with a 3-0 win over the Avalanche Tuesday.

The way the Flames have focused on defence is likely the biggest reason for Kiprusoff's improvement.

The more unconventional Thomas -- who will never be mistaken for a traditional butterfly goaltender the way he flops around in the blue paint -- had to make more than a handful of unbelievable stops against the Canucks, but his defence, led by Zdeno Chara, is getting better.

"They're playing tight defensive hockey, as well," said Keenan. "They've tried to shift their game from the beginning of the season when they had some inconsistencies, as we did."

Tonight marks the second straight game the Flames have faced a team on a run. They broke the Avalanche string at five wins, and will look to halt the Bruins' at two.

"We're meeting teams that are arriving all at the same place," said Keenan.


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