(SportsNetwork.com) - Tuukka Rask had a first-hand look at how important Tim Thomas was to the Boston Bruins franchise.
Rask and the Bruins will face their former teammate on Thursday night, when Thomas is expected to start for the Florida Panthers against visiting Boston.
Thomas, a former ninth-round pick by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1994 draft, signed as a free agent with the Bruins in 2002 and made his NHL debut with the club that season, appearing in four games. He eventually became the No. 1 goaltender with the Bruins and went 196-121-45 in 378 regular-season games with the club.
The 39-year-old also posted a postseason record of 29-21 in 50 games with the Bruins, logging a 2.07 goals against average and .933 save percentage. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2011 after helping lead Boston to its first Stanley Cup title since 1972.
Thomas, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, played one more season with the Bruins before sitting out the lockout-shortened campaign. He became a free agent this past offseason and appeared in training camp with the Panthers on a professional tryout before signing a one-year deal just before the start of the season.
Thomas has made three appearances with the Panthers, allowing nine goals on 60 shots faced. However, he has not played since exiting last Tuesday's game versus Philadelphia early with a groin injury.
He is expected to play tonight, per Florida's official twitter account.
"All those years shooting on him in practice and what not, I think it'll be fun to finally shoot on him in a game and I'm sure he's looking forward to it as well," said Boston's Milan Lucic. "I'm sure he's happy to be back in the NHL playing and he's found a new home here in Florida."
Thomas' year off allowed Rask to grab hold of Boston's starting goaltender job after he spent the majority of his career backing up the former since being acquired from Toronto on June 24, 2006.
Rask went 19-10-5 with a 9.29 GAA in 36 games last season, helping the Bruins get to the Stanley Cup Finals.
"I never thought that we would play against each other. But I'm glad that he made his comeback and proved people wrong again, and I hope he does well," said the 26-year-old Rask, who is 7-1-0 with a 0.86 GAA, .972 save percentage and three shutouts lifetime versus the Panthers.
Boston will play three straight on the road after opening the season with four of five at home and lost for the second time in its past three games with Monday's 3-2 setback to Detroit.
Loui Eriksson and Milan Lucic tallied for the Bruins, while Rask made 24 saves.
"We're really struggling with our finish right now. The chances are there but goals are not coming easy," noted Bruins head coach Claude Julien.
The Panthers, meanwhile, begin a six-game homestand and have lost five of seven to begin the season. They were last in action on Tuesday, a 4-3 setback to Nashville.
Jonathan Huberdeau, Marcel Goc and Matt Gilroy netted goals in the loss, while Jacob Markstrom surrendered all four goals on 30 shots.
"We did some good things tonight with our forecheck and creating turnovers," said Huberdeau. "We can look to build on that for our next game and get some of our mistakes straightened out."
The Bruins won all three of their meetings with the Panthers a season ago, outscoring them 11-2. They have won nine of the last 11 encounters overall and six of the past seven in Florida.