BOSTON (CBS) – Tim Thomas didn’t take the ice when the Florida Panthers came to Boston in November, watching the majority of the Bruins’ 4-1 win from an unknown location in the TD Garden while nursing a groin injury.

Thomas wasn’t seen until he was honored mid-way through the third period, when he made his way up to the ninth floor of the Garden and into the view of cameras. He received a rousing ovation after a brief video honored the seven seasons he spent in Boston, filled with images of Thomas standing on his head during Boston’s amazing Stanley Cup Championship run of 2011.

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“The way it worked out, I’m happy I didn’t play my first game back here because it gave me time to come back. I did get a flood of emotions — all good,” he told reporters Monday afternoon. “It was actually better that I wasn’t playing because I could appreciate it a bit more, because when I’m playing I’ll be focused on what I can do.”

But Thomas will be in full view Tuesday night when the Bruins host the Panthers, taking his place between the pipes against his former team. It will be Thomas’ first game against the Bruins in the TD Garden.

Thomas was a legend in Boston after his Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup-winning season in 2011. It was his second Vezina trophy while wearing the spoked-B, and his dominance in the postseason helped end a 39-year Stanley Cup drought.

But things turned sour shortly after. Thomas skipped out on Boston’s visit to the White House the following season, and then took a full year off in 2012, wanting to regroup and spend more time with his family. The Bruins traded Thomas to the New York Islanders in February, 2013 as part of a salary dump.

Thomas said the backlash from skipping the White House visit only came from the media, and he never heard any complaints from any fans. He also said the year off was much-needed, and had nothing to do with a bad relationship with the Bruins organization.

“At that time I really wasn’t thinking about money,” he said. “I was doing what I thought was the best thing for my family and for myself, and ultimately it was. Not only did the year off give me a renewed life for hockey, just being at home and being a parent to my kids and developing a relationship with my children is much greater and stronger now than it was before that year off.”

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While most teams would struggle replacing a Vezina winner, the Bruins had Tuukka Rask ready to take over. He helped the Bruins get back to the Stanley Cup Final, with a 1.88 Goal Against Average in 22 playoff games, but they ultimately fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.

All the while, Thomas sat back and watched from the comfort of his own home. He admitted to pondering a few “what ifs” as he watched his former team back in the Cup final, but he was happy to see his former backup succeed on the biggest stage.

“Of course it crossed my mind, but I was more just happy to see the success they were having and happy to see Tuukka have success,” he said. “I knew he was a great goalie and I knew when I made my decision I was leaving the team in very strong hands.”

Now, Thomas will face off against his former backup. Thomas already faced Tuukka and his former team earlier this season, making 37 saves against the B’s back in October, a 3-2 loss in Florida.

But this time, he has to do it with the Boston fans, those same fans who cheered his every save for seven seasons and gave him the ovation back in November, cheering for the other guy.

Tune in to Bruins-Panthers on 98.5 The Sports Hub — the flagship station of the Boston Bruins. Pregame coverage with Dave Goucher and Bob Beers begins at 6:30pm!

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