BOSTON -- Tim Thomas is always listed as the No. 1 reason for why the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup three years ago.
There’s good cause for that. The goaltender won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff’s best player, and put up a 1.98 goals against average and .940 save percentage in 25 playoff games in one of the best postseason performances of all-time. He was clutch at moments during the Tampa Bay Lightning series when the defense broke down in front of him, he made timely saves on players like Brian Gionta and Steve Downie when games were on the line, and he became a folk hero in the Cup Finals when Roberto Luongo turned into a tire-pumping puddle.
Thomas’ first return to Boston with the Florida Panthers kicked up all those thoughts again, and brought them to the forefront. It won’t be much of a circus similar to Tyler Seguin's return on Tuesday because Thomas won’t be playing in the game due to a balky groin, nor did Thomas speak with the assembled media prior to Thursday night’s tilt at TD Garden.
But there’s always been an undercurrent among the Bruins that other members of the Cup-winning team deserved just as much credit as Thomas received. B’s coach Claude Julien voiced those sentiments on Thursday morning when asked if the Bruins would win the 2011 Cup without Thomas.
“They’re right. But Tim Thomas doesn’t win the Stanley Cup if our team doesn’t play as well as they did in front of him," Julien insisted. "This is an honest statement: Tim played well, but I think our team played just as well in front of him. You don’t win a Stanley Cup with just a goaltender. He won the Conn Smythe because he was very good, but at the same time I would like to hope the statistic of your goaltenders can also reflect the team in front of you.
“We did a pretty good job in front of him for years minimizing the goal-scoring chances and the quality of [them]. So let’s make sure we don’t take away credit from the rest of the team too. He was a big part of it, and so was a lot of other guys. I think we won the Stanley Cup because we were a good team. That’s what I like to think anyways.”
There’s nothing ground-breaking in Julien’s words. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg were suffocating as a shutdown defensemen pair, Seguin exploded for offense early in the Tampa series when the Bruins needed it, and Patrice Bergeron teamed with Brad Marchand to wreak havoc on the Canucks in the Cup Finals. For those reasons and others, the Bruins won the Cup with a hot goaltender playing at his absolute peak.
Thomas should receive a warm ovation from the TD Garden crowd upon his first return to Boston if they show his face on the jumbotron after a video highlights package. But make certain to give the rest of the Bruins -- and not just Thomas -- their just due for the magical Cup journey that enthralled so many three years ago.