Haggerty: Thomas still proving people wrong

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Haggerty: Thomas still proving people wrong

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

PHILADELPHIA There were probably a thousand different scattered thoughts firingthrough the head of Tim Thomas as he was carving out a legendary playoff performance against the Philadelphia Flyers Monday night.

Thomas and the Bruin defense gave up a pair of goals in the first 10 minutes of a crazy, rush-filled first period, but the Bs goalie simply locked it down after his team fell behind, 2-0.

Thomas made a career-high 52 saves in all, with 32 coming in the third period and overtime as he helped Boston steal a 3-2 victory in Game Two over the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center.

The 37-year-old goalie was certainly basking in the win and enjoying the starring role he played in a victory that his team probably didnt deserve. The Bruins certainly wouldnt have captured it if it werent for their Vezina Trophy-worthy world beater.

As the game went on, I was just trying to work hard . . . By the time the third period rolled around I was feeling really good, said Thomas. Fortunately I was feeling good at the right time because they were getting some shots and opportunities. They were keeping me busy in the third period.

But one other thought must have crept into the mind of a goalie who's had to prove people wrong at every level of his career. Perhaps Thomas was wondering whether the Flyers would be interested in him now.

It seems like years ago now, but there was a time last summer when the Bruins were exploring all their salary-cap relief options. Those choices included trading Thomas and his 5 million salary cap tag to a willing team, and people close to Thomas let it be known that Philadelphia is the place he most wanted to go.

But the Flyers werent interested in a middle-aged goaltender coming off major hip surgery and an off season during which he lost his starting job to young understudy Tuukka Rask.

One would think Flyers GM Paul Holmgren might want to rethink that strategy after watching Thomas push his record in Philadelphia to 8-0-0 against the Flyers in the regular season and playoffs.

Holmgren can't be satisfied with the Flyers' current goalie situation. Their coaching staff has made five goaltender changes in nine playoff games, including the back-and-forth yo-yo between Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky in Game Two.

Thomas certainly knows that teams like the Flyers, Capitals, Lightning and Sharks passed up chances to deal for him because, perhaps, they thought he was washed up. But the Bs All-Star goaltender has taken that disbelief and turned it into fuel.

Perhaps one of those teams will win the Stanley Cup, or perhaps Thomas will end each of their playoff seasons in the ultimate act of hockey revenge served cold on the frozen sheet. The truth in Philly, according to more than one hockey source, is that the Flyers a) were never truly interesting in taking on Thomas, and b) dont believe that a goaltender should sit so prominently on the NHL salary-cap food chain.

That certainly doesnt look like the right kind of philosophy, given whats currently going on in the creases of Bruins and Flyers.

Thomas climbed into The Zone starting in the third period, as he engineered a series of breathtaking saves against James van Riemsdyk and Mike Richards (18 shots between those two players in Game 2), but he saved his best for last.

The Flyers won a faceoff deep in the Boston zone in the waning seconds of the third period, and it looked like Philly had itself a win when van Riemsdyk leveled a quick little spin-o-rama wrist shot through a screen. Somehow Thomas picked up the puck and kicked the shot away with a right leg pad save, and then got a little lucky when Daniel Briere fumbled the puck with a lot of open space near the left post.

That momentary stumble gave Dennis Seidenberg a chance to recover, and he shooed the puck away from the net and any further threats from the dangerous Flyers.

This is one of the most dangerous faceoff teams in the defensive zone when you play against them, said Thomas. Theyve got a lot of different things they can do and theyve already scored once in this series on a play like that. So I knew the face-off could be dangerous.

For just a second there it went behind a screen and I saw it just as van Riemsdyk was throwing it at the net. I saw it so late that I couldnt control the rebound, and I saw the puck go to Daniel Brieres feet. In that 1100th of a second I thought it might be over because hes one of those guys that gets them. He fumbled it just long enough for Seidenberg to get over and block one, and then I was just waiting for that buzzer. It was a relief when that buzzer happened.

Thomas knew he was both good and lucky in that flurry of action at the end of the period, but thats been the story of his career as hes created luck between the pipes through ideal positioning and expansive knowledge of the dangerous offensive players around the NHL.

Those things put Thomas in a class by himself when hes rested, motivated and feeling just a slight pang of having something to prove. That's the way he was all season as he likely earned a second career Vezina Trophy along with an NHL-record .938 save percentage.

But doing it in the playoffs is especially satisfying, since he had only a single playoff series win under his resume headed into this postseason.

Andrew Ference has always believed in Thomas, and didn't hesitate when asked when he knew it was going to be a special year for Thomas.

Training camp," said Ference.

"He hasnt missed too many nights, he added. Timmy was pretty sick. There is nobody better than him. Hes unbelievable. That third period and overtome Monday night was just a clinic. I dont even know what to say anymore.

One guy thats definitely glad a Thomas trade was never made: the guy that would have had to pull the trigger.

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli walked out of the Bs dressing room postgame and breathed a sigh of relief, as if a dramatic weight had been lifted by the victory. He knew he watched his team win a game in which they were outplayed because of a scalding hot goalie. And he knows just how demoralizing that can be to a team doing everything possible to score.

Tonight Thomas was ridiculous. Hes gotten better every game, said Chiarelli. Thats one of the best goaltending performances Ive seen in a long time. Were just hoping to get more of it.

The Flyers are hoping their goaltending nightmare ends soon, but its beginning to look more and more like this might be the Year of Tim Thomas.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

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Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

CHICAGO – Well, the Bruins are certainly opening themselves up for a little second-guessing.

The B’s were trying to move their first-round pick, but ultimately made the selection in Finnish D-man Urho Vaakenainen, who is described by scouts as a classic stay-at-home defenseman type without much offensive upside.

MORE - Report: Bruins among several teams interested in Wild's Scandella

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Vaakenainen had a goal in six games for Team Finland at a disappointing World Junior tournament, and didn’t post anything eye-catching while playing for JYP of SM-Liiga where he appeared in 41 games, tallying two goals and four assists along with a plus/minus rating of plus-five. He spent the 2015-16 season with Blues of SM-Liiga, scoring a goal and five assists in 25 games.

Some scouting reports cast him as strictly a stay-at-home D-man with limited offensive skills while other scouting reports give him a little more credit for his two-way game and smooth puck-moving abilities without any big holes in his game.

“Has an uncanny ability to get his stick in shooting and passing lanes. Just don’t expect offense,” said Sportsnet anchor and prospect aficionado Jeff Marek leading up to the draft in one of his mock drafts. “He won’t be out there late in a game to tie it up, but you’ll love him out there protecting a lead.”

Vaakenainen said he was surprised to be taken by the Bruins given that he had just one conversation with them at the NHL Scouting Combine, and hadn’t really talked to any Bruins scouts throughout the hockey season. On the plus side, Vaakenainen said he models his game after Nashville defenseman Roman Josi and prides himself on his skating, his passing and shooting and his ability to play the two-way game.

“I think I’m a great skater…good with the puck,” said Vaakenainen. “I have a great first pass. I’m a complete package and a two-way defenseman, steady guy. My expectation was to go in the first round. I wasn’t expecting to go Boston, but the first round was my expectation. I met them at the combine, but that was it. That was the only meeting in person.”

Clearly, it remains to be seen how a young, raw prospect like Vaakenainen develops over time and there were plenty of mock drafts and scouting services that him getting selected in the first round. Still, once in a while it wouldn’t kill the Bruins to go with a player holding larger upside like Finnish power forward Kristian Vesalainen or dynamic, undersized winger Kailer Yamamoto. 

Morning Skate: Pronger on his way to a GM job?

Morning Skate: Pronger on his way to a GM job?

*Chris Pronger takes a job in the front office of the Florida Panthers and wants to be a GM in the NHL someday.

*It sounds like Alex Radulov is playing contract chicken with the Montreal Canadiens while demanding pretty massive term and salary demands.

*Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has a top-nine winger on his wish list after dealing away Jonathan Drouin to the Habs.

*A good look from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jon Rosen into what the draft outlook is for the Los Angeles Kings entering this weekend.

*Ryan Strome is ecstatic about moving on from the New York Islanders and heading to the Edmonton Oilers where he’ll get a chance to fully utilize the skills that went under the radar in Brooklyn.

*Even without a high pick, the Buffalo Sabres and Jason Botterill will be making some moves at the NHL Draft.

*You want some talk about the Bruins prospects and their potential draft targets for the Black and Gold this weekend. Here’s FOH (Friend of Haggs) Kirk Luedeke on with a podcast up in Maine called the Bruins Diehards talking all of that good stuff just a couple of days ago.

*Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall is going searching for another goalie after once again deciding that Philly needs more help between the pipes. This seems to be a perpetual situation for this group, doesn’t it?

*Jeff Marek has his final 2017 NHL Mock Draft up and running, and he has St. Cloud State forward Ryan Poehling headed to Boston with the No. 18 pick.

*Apparently Linda Cohn wants to push out Gary Bettman and take over as NHL Commissioner when her contract is up with ESPN. Well, okay then.

*It was a little emotional and totally uplifting to see Denna Laing getting saluted at the NHL Awards ceremony. I’m so glad that my daughter has strong role models like Denna that show young women what courage and character are all about.

*The rumor mill is getting worked up at NHL Draft weekend, and it sounds like the Minnesota Wild are going to be busy potentially dealing Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella or Jason Pominville in the next week or two. Certainly, the Bruins have been front and center in those discussions, but it remains to be seen if something gets done.

*For something completely different: The glowing reviews are coming in for the new Netflix series, GLOW, and it doesn’t sound like a fun concept.