By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
VANCOUVER The Canucks should have studied their lessons well and known better.If Vancouver had been paying close attention during the Eastern Conference portion of the playoffs, theyd have pinpointed the best way to attack Bs goaltender Tim Thomas headed into a grueling seven game series.Tampa scored five or more goals four times in their seven game series against the Bruins during the conference finals, and -- despite the fact that those gaudy scores were aided by empty net goal situations -- at times Thomas looked to be approaching a human goaltender with normal frailties. Thomas hasnt looked like that mere mortal much of the rest of the time while setting the Bruins franchise record for postseason wins in one season (14), pitching three playoff shutouts for the first time since Gerry Cheevers and Gilles Gilbert teamed up to do it in 1976 and making more saves in one Cup run than anybody else in the history of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs (701) aside from Vancouver goalie Kirk McLeans 761 saves in 1994.So what did Tampa Bay do?Guy Boucher and the rest of the Lightning heaped praise on Thomas and called him an enigma they couldnt figure out while he made miracles happen on the ice. The verbal bouquets tossed from the Lightning to the Bs goaltender practically provided a path of rose petals from Boston to Florida when the Black and Gold traveled there for road games. It was a love-fest that might have been a little hard to figure out at first, but not when you looked closely enough.The bon mots had to be on the advice of Thomas good friend and former University of Vermont teammate Marty St. Louis, who knows the intrepid Thomas plays inspired, dominant, unique and intimidating between the pipes when that chip on his shoulder enlarges. Practically nobody believed in Thomas as a 37-year-old goalie coming off hip surgery entering this year after he lost his job to the newer Finnish model just out of the showroom.He responded to the doubters by pulling together one of the best individual regular seasons in the history of NHL goaltenders.It was the ultimate unintentional bird to all of his critics and perhaps even to those that had thought about trading him away from Boston after last seasons problems.So what did Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault, prototype butterfly goaltender Roberto Luongo and the rest of the Canucks do with that vital piece of hockey intelligence sitting right in their laps?They ignored it and did the one thing that an opponent cant do against Thomas: offend him, rile him up and attack him as a goalie without style thats operating outside the conventional rules of hockey.Vigneault criticized Thomas for venturing too far out of the blue painted area, for trying to draw penalties during his aggressive play and for decking Henrik Sedin when the Canucks forwards tried to skate into his crease. I dont think it was ever an issue to begin with, said Thomas when asked about Vigneaults accusations that appear more akin to a bothersome greenhead fly on Thomas neck in the summertime. It was made an issue by the people that were talking about it. But in reality, it never was an issue.Then Alex Burrows took it a step beyond and whacked the paddle out of Thomas hands in the third period of a one-sided Game 4 at TD Garden.Thomas responded to Burrows with a two-handed slash to the ankles that incited a mini-riot on the ice, but one could argue that Thomas play for the entire series aside from a couple of bad goalsdecisions in a Game Two overtime loss has been giant two-handed slash to the Canucks organization for again disrespecting the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL. Theyd been getting the butt end of my stick, said Thomas. They did it a couple of times on the power-play in the first period also. I dont know who it was, I was focused on the puck. That was like the third time that hed hit my butt end on that power play. We were up 4-0, the game was getting down toward the end, so I thought Id give him a little love tap and let him know, I know what youre doing, but Im not going to let you do it forever. So thats all that was. It was a typical battle.Who knows?Perhaps the Vancouver team watched their own goaltender melt down amid pointed comments and some good old goalie-crashing over the years, and assumed Thomas would similarly fold up like a cruise deck lounge chair.The Bs goalie is 9-1 in playoff games this year when hes faced 35 shots or more, hes rocking a 1.26 goals against average in the playoffs and a .966 save percentage during the Cup Finals and hes been the driving force behind everything that Boston has accomplished thus far this season.Either way, the Canucks should have known better than to try to rattle the cage of a guy thats had to scrap, battle and will his way up to NHL starter from the bottomless depths of Europe and the independent hockey league system. None of that ever stopped Thomas, so the squeaky wheel Canucks never had a shot at really getting into his kitchen."All Vancouver has done is helped put the Bruins into a 2-2 even series heading into Friday nights Game 5, and continue pushing Thomas on a path to his first Conn Smythe whether the Bruins win, lose or draw in the final three games.On to the links:The Toronto Stars Kevin McGran says that all of the pressure now sits in the lap of the Sedin Twins and Ryan Kesler as the Canucks need to reclaim the series.Bruce Arthur argues that nobody is pure like the soft-driven snow in the Stanley Cup Final, and thats been pretty clearly established in four games between two physical opponents.The TorontoStarsays that loving the Canucks isnt a very easy thing to do. One might argue that hating them would be a lot easier.A NESN.com podcast between Michael Hurley and Jack Edwards for all of those looking for their shot of Jack.A good question-and-answer session with Yahoo! Sports hockey blogger Greg Wyshynski otherwise known as the Puck Daddy. His path to his current job sounds very familiar in a lot of different ways.Speaking of Puck Daddy, the FOH Friend of Haggs wonders if Ryan Kesler can play the hero again for the Canucks after the Bruins have done well to physically pound him in the first few games of the series.A quick overview of the potential Chris Drury buyout by the New York Rangers. So it looks like the Rags went 0-for-2 on those mega-contracts with Drury and Scott Gomez. Huh. Who would have thought that? Response: everybody.Can Roberto Luongo carry his team to victory, or will he forever be known as a guy that couldnt handle the pressure? Interesting questions posed about the Vancouver goaltender.As usual Justin Bourne is right on with his assessment that the Canucks have tried way too hard to play the Bruins style of hockey. Not sure why theyre doing it, but theyll lose if it continues.Bill Simmons writes about the Bruins on his new side project, and I was entertained if nothing else -- and appreciated the Good Will Hunting reference.Nice work by DJ Bean and the WEEI.com crew to get a diary blog from the Green Men for their trip to Boston. It sounds like for the most part they were treated well in the Hub despite a pair of butt-kicking games on the ice.
By Joe Haggerty