More often than not, the better goalie will prevail in game seven.
Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins proved just that in game seven of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Thomas earned his second shutout of the series, while also recording an amazing 1.15 GAA and a .967 save percentage in the final seven games. Here is the laundry list of achievements that he can add to his resume:
-The oldest player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP (37 years old).
-He recorded the most saves in a Final (238).
-He recorded the most saves in a playoff year (798).
-He faced the most shots in one playoff year (849).
-He is the first goaltender to win three game sevens in one playoff year.
-He is the first goaltender to ever post a game-seven shutout on the road in the Final.
-He allowed just eight goals against the Canucks, which is the fewest amount of goals scored in a Final that went seven games.
These are pretty impressive notes for a guy that started the season as the backup to Tuukka Rask. There is no doubt about it that Thomas has come a long way this season. Maybe his improvement throughout the season is what drove him to be the goaltender he was Wednesday night. It was just over a year ago that Americans were questioning Team USA General Manager Brian Burke’s decision to have Thomas on the USA Olympic Team in Vancouver.
Let’s take a trip to the past, shall we?
Ryan Miller sat on top of the world as the top-goaltender in the United States. He got the nod against Team Canada and their star-goaltender, Roberto Luongo. In a well-played, evenly matched game, Luongo came out as the winning goaltender as Sidney Crosby beats Miller in overtime. Where is Tim Thomas during all of this?
Tim is watching from the seats, just as distraught as his teammates on the ice. Having a hip injury and showing inconsistent play throughout the NHL season kept him from being the go-to-guy for his American teammates.
Fast forward. Thomas raises the Stanley Cup over his head in the very same building that Luongo claimed gold just 16 months before. What’s the difference?
Thomas stood tall as the backbone of the Bruins; he was the driving force of a roster that was barely even considered a Cup-contender at the start of the NHL season.
Luongo and the Canadian roster were considered the favorites since the last Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
Thomas was the better goaltender when this series started and proved that with his celebration after a hard-fought game seven.
Add in the fact that Thomas played in every single possible second that he could during the 2011 playoffs, while many times the Vancouver Canucks had a goalie-carousel going between Luongo and backup Cory Schneider.
Thomas made the big saves when he was needed. Not only did he and his Bruin defense only allow the Sedins and Ryan Kesler (Vancouver’s top-three scorers in the regular season) to just two goals in the series, but he was lining guys up that came near his crease. Just ask Daniel Sedin.
Luongo gave up 20 goals in the series, including a disastrous game six when he saved just five out of eight shots and was pulled out of the game in the first period. Despite getting two shutouts in the series, Luongo just could not keep it together at every turn as Thomas did.
One of the biggest moments in game seven came when the Bruins had a 2-0 lead on Vancouver in the second period and Patrice Bergeron came in on a slight-breakaway on Luongo. He was tripped and he and the Vancouver defenseman went sliding into Luongo along with the puck. The Vancouver net-minder failed to put his glove on the puck and it slid into the net with the other two players, which resulted in a Bruins goal to make it 3-0 and really take the wind out of the sails of the Canucks.
That is a play you would likely see Thomas do the right thing.
Thomas’ teammates are the first ones to mention that their goaltender is the reason for their Stanley Cup victory.
"If they got any chances, Timmy was there," Bruins forward Mark Recchi said after the game seven win, "and it was just scary how good he was."
As a goaltender, back-stopping your team to a Gold Medal in the Olympics is a dream-come-true, but leading your team to a Stanley Cup victory is that much better.
Check out my game-seven recap at http://jeffponder.blogspot.com/2011/06/boston-bruins-capture-2011-stan
Quotes courtesy NHL.com.