April 24, 2011

Thomas saves the day in Bruins double-overtime thriller

by Jesse Connolly

Nathan Horton and Tim Thomas celebrate the Bruins Game 5 win in double overtime. (Getty)

BOSTON -- When the puck found its way to Brian Gionta just 24 feet from the Bruins net at the 5:34 mark of double overtime, the Canadiens captain undoubtedly thought he was about to fire home the game-winning goal.

After breaking in on a 2-on-1, Gionta received a beauty of a pass from Travis Moen through Andrew Ference's legs. With Tim Thomas playing Moen's shot, there was simply no way the Bruins netminder could spring back in time to make a stop, as the Habs were about to devastate the TD Garden crowd and take a 3-2 series lead back to Monreal.

For a fraction of a second the building fell silent. Time began to slow down. As the puck sailed toward the vacated side of the net and every player on the Canadiens bench leaned forward, preparing to leap over it in celebratory fashion, Thomas' left pad swung out at the speed of light.

The Bruins netminder, in the midst of a legendary performance, wasn't going to let his night end. Not yet. Not like this. With what may go down as the biggest save of his career, Thomas kept the Black and Gold alive. Less than four minutes later, Nathan Horton beat Carey Price to give Boston a 2-1 victory.

"Well when it started I actually came out and was playing it as if Moen would have a breakaway, because that’s what it looked like, a break, right off the start," Thomas said when recounting the play. "And then I realized my D was going to get back and make it a two-on–one, and I was out pretty far so I had to make sure I started to get my backward momentum going so I could play both the shot and the pass.

"I just barely had enough speed to be able to make that push over on the pass. And I was just fortunate enough to get a leg out and cover that part of the net."

When told that Gionta thought for certain he was about to win the game, Thomas told the enormous crowd of reporters surrounding him that he'd wished the winger reacted that way, rather than what ended up transpiring.

"Well I wish he would've put his hands in the air instead of following through and hitting me in the face with his stick," he said. "I knew either I had it or I didn't. I had just gotten enough momentum and I thought to myself, 'I'm going to get there, but I've got to get my leg down.' Sometimes it's not the easiest thing to do because I have a human body. I was just fortunate enough to get it."

Thomas finished the night with a whopping 44 stops on 45 shots in over 89 minutes of hockey, outdueling Carey Price who stopped 49-of-51 as the tough-luck loser for the Habs.

"Carey played a very good game, he made some really good saves," Thomas said of his counterpart. "My job, like I’ve said it before, I’m not really playing against Carey so to speak, but tonight I was in a way. Just because whenever he made saves, I had to make sure I made the saves because it was such a tight game."

Ironically enough, Thomas' stop on Gionta was the final one he had to make on the night. Asked if he had ever made a bigger save in his entire life, the 37-year-old netminder said he was too caught up in the frantic pace of the game to really soak in just how mesmerizing and vital it was.

"No, I mean I don’t have a list like that," said Thomas. "I do have a couple that stick out from the past and stuff and I’m sure I haven’t had much time to think about it. The game just got over. Yeah, probably because it ended up being such an important save. And I’ll have to watch it to get a better picture of exactly what happened because it was the second overtime and thing happen fast and I was just playing goalie."

As the sea of writers around him circled closer, a Canadian cameraman shouted at a local media member he believed was in his way.

"Dude! You block all the shots!" the cameraman barked at the reporter in a French accent.

"That's my job," a grinning Thomas chimed in.

After witnessing his masterful performance on Saturday night, perhaps truer words have never been spoken.