April 9, 2011

Thomas tops idol Hasek in record books

by Jesse Connolly

Bruins goalies Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas skate off after a 3-1 win against the Senators. (Getty)

 BOSTON -- For 12 years now, longtime Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek's save percentage during the 1998-99 season for Buffalo has stood as the best single-season mark for any goaltender to ever play in the National Hockey League.

But records, as they say, are meant to be broken.

Barring an unexpected appearance in his team's final game on Sunday in New Jersey, Bruins netminder Tim Thomas -- who idolized and even to an extent modeled his game after the renown Czech goaltender -- all but officially topped Hasek on Saturday afternoon.

With a 3-1 victory over the Senators, one in which he stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced, Thomas finished the year with a save percentage of .9381, beating Hasek's .9366.

"That’s what it went up to?" Thomas said inquisitively when given his up-to-the-minute stats. "Okay because it was .9376 before. Yeah, well that’s great. That’s awesome. But there’s one more game. As a team we have to focus on taking care of business tomorrow and I’m part of that. I’ll reflect on it really once the season’s over a little bit more than I am right now."

Forever synonymous with his unorthodox style, Thomas marveled at Hasek's similar approach between the pipes, not just because of its effectiveness but because time and time again he was told that such an unconventional way of playing would never cut it in the NHL.

"I’ll be honest, Dominik Hasek was a hero of mine back when I was in college," Thomas said of his days at the U. of Vermont. "A guy who played unconventional and had a ton of success. And even at college-age I was already labeled as somebody, with my style, that couldn’t do it at the next level. And so he was an inspiration.

"And just actually still seeing him, knowing that he’s playing -- he won the Czech League not this year but the season before --  I’m still impressed with what he’s been able to accomplish."

As for the record itself, Thomas had no trouble deflecting plenty of credit to his teammates, namely captain Zdeno Chara.

"That number there though is a testament to the team in front of me and the way that they battled for me all year long, defensemen and forwards," he said.  "It also reflects on one of the best, if not the best defenseman in our world out there in front of me that I think should be getting a little bit more Norris talk than at least I’ve heard.

"Maybe he is, I don’t know. I don’t hear that much. But he’s been stellar for us all year playing against the top players on every team, night in and night our and just doing a great job. So that number is the team number."

Following the win, fellow netminder Tuukka Rask made sure to grab the puck for Thomas to hang onto as a keepsake.

"That was awesome," said Thomas. "I didn't even think about it. It was a great gesture by Tuukka."

Rask will likely get the nod against the Devils in the final game of the regular season, allowing the 36-year-old veteran to get a little extra rest and start prepping for what he hopes is a long run in the playoffs.

"I think tonight helped," Thomas said of getting the nod against Ottawa. "That was actually, I mean that was the goal of playing this weekend was to get ready for the playoffs. We didn’t want too long of a break. It was next Thursday. Me and Claude [Julien] talked it over.

"It was actually my decision to play and it was, I won’t say I didn’t end up putting any pressure on myself, but I will say that it was probably the best thing for the team and for myself going forward to get ready for the playoffs."