Feisty Thomas continues success

Tim Thomas is tough for the Canucks to beat — and beat up.

Less than 2 minutes before completing his third shutout in his seven career games against Vancouver, the Boston Bruins’ feisty goalie scuffled with Alexander Burrows.

After Burrows whacked Thomas’ stick out of his hand, the goalie retrieved the lumber and hammered Burrows in the back of the leg with a mighty slash. Thomas then threw some punches.

”That was like the third time that they had hit my butt end” of the stick, Thomas said after Boston’s 4-0 win on Wednesday night evened the Stanley Cup finals at 2 games apiece. ”I thought I’d give him a little love tap and let them know that, `I know what you’re doing but I’m not going to let you do it forever.’ … That’s all that was, a typical battle.”

Before the game, Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said that part of Thomas’ approach to goaltending is to roam outside his crease and initiate contact.

”He seems to think that once he’s out, set, makes the save, that he can go directly back in his net without having anybody behind him. Well, that’s wrong.”

After the game, though, Thomas said that was a non-issue.

”I think it was made an issue by the people that were talking about it,” he said.

The bigger issue for the Canucks has been their struggles against Thomas. He is 5-2 in his career against them, losing just the first two games of the finals by one goal each. In those seven games, he’s given up only six goals on 243 shots. But Thomas thought it was more of a coincidence than a mastery since the teams’ rosters underwent significant changes throughout that stretch.

”There’s no secret,” Thomas said. ”All I can tell you is any success I’ve had in this series against them has been because I’ve worked extremely hard.”

But Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa thought Thomas was getting ”too much respect” from the Canucks.

”He’s leaky. Pucks go through him,” Bieksa said. ”We’ve seen it all year. We just need to put more pucks on him.”

HORTON STAYS HOME: Nathan Horton won’t be traveling with the Boston Bruins to Vancouver for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals on Friday night.

General manager Peter Chiarelli said Horton, who sustained a severe, series-ending concussion in Game 3 on Monday night, would stay behind. But he did make an appearance in the locker room after the game.

”I was very happy to see Nathan up and around in the locker room,” Thomas said. ”I wasn’t exactly sure about his status.”

He had heard that Horton was OK, but said, grinning, ”I didn’t know if OK meant he’s going to live.’ ”

Horton was injured 5:07 into the Bruins 8-1 win on a late hit by Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome, who was suspended for four games.

”Watching him going down, we want to finish what we started for him,” Thomas said. ”But to be honest with you, we also want to do it all for ourselves and each other.”

SAVARD WATCHES: Marc Savard, his career threatened by two concussions, watched his Boston teammates even the series.

Savard led the Bruins in scoring in three consecutive seasons before his 2009-2010 regular season ended with a concussion from a blindside hit by Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins that was not penalized. Savard returned for last year’s Eastern Conference semifinal, won by the Philadelphia Flyers after the Bruins took a 3-0 lead in games and a 3-0 lead in Game 7.

But the effects of the hit lingered, causing the center to miss the first 23 games this season with post-concussion syndrome. He played for the first time on Dec. 2 against Tampa Bay. Then, on Jan. 22 at Colorado, he sustained a moderate concussion when he was checked into the glass at the end boards by defenseman Matt Hunwick, a former teammate.

Savard hasn’t played since, winding up with two goals and eight assists in 25 games.

STANLEY CUP MELTDOWN: Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa thinks the ice at TD Garden might be better suited for snow cones than slap shots.

Thanks to a Northeast heat wave, temperatures cracked 90 degrees in downtown Boston on Wednesday. The Canucks said the heat and humidity already had affected the ice at the pregame skate, turning it slushy and soft.

”The ice wasn’t very good at all,” Bieksa said. ”The ice is very soft and chippy. It’s humid here. It can hurt you when you’re coming up the ice and assume the puck is flat on your stick, but it bounces away. We just have to be careful.”

The Canucks are among the NHL’s fastest teams, basing much of their offensive attack on speed and precision. Yet slushy ice is common all year in warmer climates or multi-use buildings, so Vancouver doesn’t expect any major limitations.

”We’ve been in Nashville during the playoffs, too, and it was the same or hotter,” Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin said. ”We’re in the middle of June, so it’s going to be this way everywhere. I don’t think there’s many buildings with great ice right now.”

Boston coach Claude Julien disagreed, praising the Garden staffers for their caretaking work.

”It looked really good,” Julien said. ”They made some adjustments to this building. I think it’s been some great adjustments. The me, the ice looked really good. I think the guys were pretty pleased with it last game as well.”

TOUGH GUYS: After Nathan Horton’s severe concussion and 145 combined penalty minutes in Game 3, the NHL wants the players in the Stanley Cup finals to calm down.

During the break between games in Boston, NHL disciplinary officials appealed to the Canucks and Bruins to keep their scuffles, skirmishes and taunting to a minimum for the rest of the series.

Both teams agreed it’s a good idea — although each blames the other for this series’ physical, bad-tempered tone. Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa said intimidation is ”their game, that’s for sure, their bread and butter.”

”(Boston) is a team that prides itself on being the tougher team after the whistle, pushing and shoving,” Bieksa said after Wednesday’s morning skate. ”That’s fine for them, but we can’t get sucked into that. I know after the whistle, they’re flexing their muscles and pointing out how big and bad they are, but before the whistle … we know we’re as good as any team in the league.”

The mayhem got serious in the third period of Game 3. The teams combined for nine misconduct penalties and 118 penalty minutes in the final 20 minutes of Boston’s 8-1 win, with a scrum after nearly every stoppage in play.

The clubs also have exchanged taunts based around Vancouver forward Alex Burrows’ apparent bite on the finger of Boston’s Patrice Bergeron in the series opener. Canucks forward Maxim Lapierre taunted Bergeron in Game 2 by pointing his finger at Bergeron’s mouth, so Boston’s Mark Recchi and Milan Lucic did the same to Lapierre and Burrows in Game 3.

”All that other stuff takes away from the game,” Boston forward Brad Marchand said. ”It’s a very emotional time of year. We just try to keep our emotions intact and stay disciplined. They’re a very frustrating team to play against, so we have to stay focused.”

Boston coach Claude Julien said he regrets not telling his players to avoid returning Lapierre’s taunt. He addressed it in a meeting before Game 4, saying NHL disciplinarian Mike Murphy ”was absolutely right in sending us that message. We need to sell this game in a proper way.”

NASH’S CANUCKS TIES: As a hockey-playing — and soccer- and basketball-playing — kid growing up in British Columbia, Steve Nash of course was a Canucks fan. The two-time NBA MVP still remembers the sting of Vancouver’s Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers in the 1994 Stanley Cup finals.

Now that his favorite NHL team is back chasing a championship, Nash has an even deeper connection to the Canucks’ run. His sister is married to Manny Malhotra, the Vancouver center who unexpectedly returned from a career-threatening eye injury to play in Game 2.

”It’s made it a very personal and emotional season,” Nash told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The Phoenix point guard attended his first game of the series Wednesday. He watched Malhotra’s comeback from a hotel in Baltimore.

”It was a great feeling to see him out there and hear the crowd chanting his name throughout the game,” Nash said before Game 4.

Nash is preparing for an event involving another of his eclectic sports interests: his annual ”Showdown in Chinatown” charity soccer match in New York on June 22. Basketball and soccer stars including Tony Parker and Grant Hill are scheduled to attend — no word yet on any hockey players.

NOTES: Suspended Vancouver D Aaron Rome participated in the pregame skate at TD Garden with his teammates. He wasn’t in the Canucks’ locker room after the workout, however. Rome still hasn’t publicly commented on his devastating hit on Boston F Nathan Horton beyond a brief written statement Tuesday. Rome’s agent has said he’s considering an appeal of the four-game suspension. … Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was expected to attend Game 4. A Canadian team hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993. … Vigneault said the Canucks asked the league about the legality of Boston G Tim Thomas’ two-handed check on Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin in Game 3. Thomas knocked Sedin to the ice without receiving a penalty while Sedin attempted to catch a loose puck. ”We’ve talked to the NHL about him initiating contact like he did on Hank,” Vigneault said. ”Hopefully, they’re going to handle it.” … Tyler Seguin, the second overall pick in last year’s draft, took Horton’s spot on the Bruins roster for the game. Seguin played in the first two games of the series but was replaced in Game 3 by the more physical Shawn Thornton. … Keith Ballard took Rome’s place for the Canucks and was in the starting lineup. In another move by Vancouver, Jeff Tambellini was a healthy scratch and was replaced by the harder-hitting Tanner Glass.