March 18, 2013

Original Six: Tim Thomas' greatest hits

By Jesse Connolly

Ray Bourque wrapped up his prolific career in Colorado. Bobby Orr did the same in Chicago. With Tuukka Rask ready to take the reins and “friends, family and faith” prompting a year-long hiatus, Tim Thomas will be the latest Bruins legend to hang up his skates elsewhere, as the 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy winner — well, his contract, at least — was dealt to the Isles in February. While the White House, Chick Fil-A and a handful of zany Facebook posts may still be fresh in our minds, Thomas will eventually be remembered as the greatest goaltender in the long, storied history of this franchise. Here are six memorable moments we’ll never forget:

6. All-Star Superstar

While the Bruins have had their fair share of memorable moments at the NHL All-Star Game over the years, including Game MVP awards for Bill Guerin in 2001 and Ray Bourque in 1996, the event struggled to reach the level of required viewing. Thomas did his best to change that for fans back in Boston.

In the skills competition, the former UVM standout allowed a mic’d-up Marc Savard to squeak a weak shot through him in a shootout event. Later, Thomas made the laugh meter spike when he wiped out in a ‘round the rink race. As for the game? The man known as “The Tank” simply dominated, earning a whopping four victories in a row at the ASG — a feat that likely never will be equaled.

5. Fight with Price

 In a game that was not only a bloodbath but an 8-6 barnburner, it’s hard to fathom the goaltenders stealing the show, but that’s exactly what Thomas and Montreal’s Carey Price (below) did on Feb. 9, 2011, at TD Garden. When a crowd of players began exchanging punches in Price’s corner, the Habs netminder decided to skate over and get involved. Thomas refused to let the opposition have a man advantage in the potential brawl.

The building erupted as No. 30 skated down to the Canadiens’ end, tossed his mask aside and grabbed a hold of Price’s white sweater. The fight itself wasn’t exactly Foreman-Ali, but getting to witness a goalie fight between two historic rivals was a moment no one present that night will ever forget.

4. Validating Vezina

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Thomas had his fair share of doubters when it came to proving he was a bona fide NHL goalie. After journeying around the globe from league to league in pursuit of his dream, Thomas shined for a pair of crummy, post-lockout squads before helping an underwhelming Bruins roster make the playoffs and push the top-seeded Habs to seven games in 2008.

It took until June 2009 when Thomas — fresh off of leading the league in goals-against average and save percentage — took home the Vezina, then gave a stirring speech about his improbable journey for him to effectively silence nearly all of his critics.

3. The save on Downie

With the 2011 Eastern Conference finals tied at two games apiece and the Bruins holding a not-so-comfortable 2-1 lead against the surging Lightning, Thomas made one of the most spectacular postseason stops hockey fans have ever witnessed midway through the third period of Game 5. Tampa d-man Eric Brewer sent a shot wide to Thomas’ right, which ricocheted back out toward the front of the net. Bolts forward Steve Downie found the puck on his stick and an empty net staring at him.

Desperately, Thomas leaped back and extended his stick toward the post. Downie’s shot hit the goaltender’s paddle, which rippled as the puck bounced off toward the corner. Rich Peverley buried an empty-netter to close out the scoring, while Downie remained on Tampa’s vacated bench after the game to sulk and wonder what might’ve been.

2. Driving Canucks crazy

In limiting their high-powered offense to just eight goals in seven games, Thomas made the first two weeks of June 2011 (and the ensuing offseason) a pretty miserable time for the Canucks. En route to denying Vancouver its first NHL championship, the cagey netminder owned the opposition both on and off the ice.

The Bruins backstop’s unconventional style irked Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault and prompted Roberto Luongo to not-so-subtly mock him. In the end, Thomas got the last laugh. Vigneault stuck with Luongo and his unpumped tire for too long, Thomas stopped nearly everything thrown his way, stuffed Alex Burrows’ face with a blocker sandwich (above) and led Boston to glory.

1. Seventh Heaven

As anticlimactic as it may be, there’s just no way to justify any image of Thomas being more memorable than when the heavily-bearded netminder hoisted the most hallowed trophy in sports high above his head. As much as we’ll all remember the Bruins’ dynamic depth in 2011, the defensive dominance of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, and the clutch contributions from players such as Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand, no player had a bigger hand in the Stanley Cup coming back to Boston for the first time in 39 years than Thomas.

The veteran netminder’s record-breaking, superhuman playoff run was something that even the most nonchalant hockey fans got swept up by. The feel-good story of Thomas’ journey reached a crescendo and the Big Bad Bruins finally climbed back to the top of the NHL mountain thanks to his marvelous string of magical performances.

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Jesse Connolly is the Bruins beat writer for New England Hockey Journal and is the
editor of hockeyjournal.com.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com