Panthers say Tim Thomas will be back in net to face Bruins

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Goaltender Tim Thomas is expected to return to the Florida Panthers lineup in time to face his former team, the Boston Bruins, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

Following Wednesday’s practice, coach Kevin Dineen was non-committal whether the two-time Vezina Trophy winner had fully recovered from a lower-body injury Thursday, but signs on the ice over the past couple days suggest Thomas is prepared to return.

For the second time in three days, Thomas took part in the team’s full practice, sharing a majority of the workload with teammate Jacob Markstrom.

“He had a pretty good day,” Dineen said. “He’s making progress. [It is] questionable to see if he’ll go tomorrow night.”

But Dineen, who does not disclose his starting netminder prior to games, may have tipped his hand when he indicated the team’s intent to carry three goaltenders for as long as needed, and “all are options for tomorrow.”

The 39-year-old Thomas has missed the last four games with a groin ailment. Thomas suffered the injury in the first period of Florida’s 2-1 loss to Philadelphia on Oct. 8. He gave up two goals on five shots before leaving 7 1/2 minues into the contest.

Thomas is 1-2 with a 5.05 goals-against average and a .850 save percentage this season.

Thursday would mark the first time Thomas has faced his former team since taking a year-long sabbatical from the NHL. During his tenure with Boston, he led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup in 2010-11, capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

“He’s a big part of the New England culture for a lot of years and that is not easily forgotten,” Dineen said. “That was their first Cup in a long, long time and he has his fingerprints all over that. So that will certainly be of interest to the Boston, New England.”

Dineen, a former player himself, recognized the magnitude of making a first appearance against a former team, calling it an “emotional” moment.

Thomas posted a 196-121-45 record and a 2.50 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage with Boston.