Notes: Thomas continues to dominate late

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Notes: Thomas continues to dominate late

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

TAMPA Its pretty easy to get caught up watching Tim Thomas during the Stanley Cup playoffs, especially late in games when he has become a veritable human highlight reel.

And if there ever was a moment to get caught up in Thomas' play, it was when he made an otherworldly stop with the blade of his stick in Game 5.

The stop batted a sure Steve Downie goal out of the net area, keeping the Bruins' one-goal third-period lead intact. It was no surprise Downie sat stunned on the Tampa bench by himself after the game was finished and the Bruins had taken the victory, 3-1.

The save is already going down in the annals of Bruins history as the best postseason save for the Black and Gold since an amazing Reggie Lemelin stop against the New Jersey Devils back in the 1988 Stanley Cup playoffs run -- a gigantic compliment for Thomas.

The compliments have been coming in waves, even from the enemy. Lightning coach Guy Boucher has called the Bs goaltender an enigma on numerous occasions, and he talks about the miracles being performed by the former Vezina Trophy winner.

In some ways, that kind of mystical talk takes away from what the 37-year-old goalie is doing during this playoff run. Its not about any miracles or mysteries with Thomas. Its about an All-Star playing at the very top of his game when it matters most for both himself and his teammates around him.

Thomas is securing his place within the game of hockey, and he has a chance to add something amazing to his Vezina Trophy and All-Star honors. The 33-save effort and Downie save was the latest in his heart-stopping run, but coach Claude Julien worries about his team getting a little too dependent on Thomas coming up with something amazing to bail them out.

You don't want to rely on your goaltender. He's an important part of our team, and it's nice to be able to rely on him, said Julien. But you don't want to go into the game relying on him.

You want to do your job. There's going to be some games, like we said yesterday, that what's important is a win is about finding a way. You fall down 1-0 in the first two minutes of the game, and, you know, it's a team that usually shuts other teams out pretty good."

The funny thing is that rather than rely on Thomas to be brilliant, his stellar play could inspire the Bruins with the confidence that their goaltender is back into "brick-wall" mode. It's a state that would also demoralize the Lightning, and get them thinking its going to take a perfect shot to get the puck in the net. That kind of mindset can set scorers into long scoring slumps when they start trying to pick corners rather than simply shooting at the net through traffic with a quick release.

The series against the Flyers was essentially over after the 52-save effort in Game 2, which so overwhelmed the Philly skaters that they couldnt regain their offensive mojo. There is every chance that could happen to Tampa Bay in Game 6 after the Tim Thomas Show shut them down in the third period on Monday.

Boucher is known for his mind games, but Thomas and the Bruins might just be playing the ultimate mind game with the Lightning right now in the conference finals. The big Cheshire Cat grin Thomas flashed in the third period of Monday nights win while chaos reigned around him was something special. It had to give Tampas scorers the uneasy feeling theyre in for a long road if they're going to beat him.

Speaking of Thomas brilliance, his former college teammate at the University of Vermont, Martin St. Louis, said that the Lightning will once again attack the Bs goalie with traffic and physical contact as they did in Game 4.

That means plenty of Ryan Malone and Vinny Lecavalier attempting to battle their way through defenders to Thomas, and plenty of the collisions that got Thomas pretty hot under the collar in Game 4.

Wednesday we're going to have the same mindset of getting pucks in the net, crashing the net, and making their goaltender . . . giving him a hard game to play, said St. Louis.

Julien would be the first to say that the Bruins managed to win Game 5 despite not playing up their potential. He'd also say that the Bs will have to be much better if theyre hoping to eliminate the Lightning in Florida on Wednesday.

We were still able to hang on and eventually give ourselves a lead. But I think we know we can play better than we did last night, said Julien. That's the positive that you can take out of a win, knowing that we're a team that plays better than what we showed. So we're going to need that kind of effort tomorrow if we plan on winning the hockey game, because they're going to play with desperation.

They're a good team. We've said that all along. They're a dangerous team. Offensively they create a lot of opportunities, even if you play well defensively. They're going to find ways. So we have to be on top of our game tomorrow.

Boucher made official what people had been speculating since the Lightning dropped Game Five at TD Garden the Bolts will go with goalie Dwayne Roloson in an elimination scenario during Game 6 at the St. Pete Times Forum with their season on life support.

The 41-year-old Roloson is an amazing 7-0 in elimination games throughout his career, with the goalie never getting a chance to ride things out during his last playoff run when he suffered an injury deep in the playoff run with the Edmonton Oilers.

Roloson was the guy that took us here, and that's how I felt before last game; but like I said, I felt like it was time to give him a little breather, said Boucher. At the same time I felt that Mike Smith played really well. So it was a perfect situation to put Smitty in.

If something were to go wrong in the previous game, put a new goaltender in for a do-or-die, I don't think it would have been a good moment for anybody. So this is a perfect situation. He's going to be the only rested guy on the two teams.

The bottom line in what makes Bouchers a choice a pretty easy one in a game with potentially dire consequences: Roloson is the guy that the Lightning brought in to be the answer in January, and Smith has started a grand total of six games since March 3. Not a tough choice to go with Roloson with the season on the line given his big game experience even if he is a little banged up.

No word on Tampa Bay catalyst Sean Bergenheim, who pulled up lame in Game 5 away from the action and wouldnt have been able to play for the Lightning had the game been played on Tuesday night. Bergenheim would be a big loss for the Lightning if he cant play hes been one of their biggest offensive weapons as a player thats operated away from the heavy defensive attention paid to the big name Lightning offensive players.

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

NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

When the hockey world grew tired of shootouts, the league took something of a half measure. Rather than eliminate the shootout, the league moved overtime from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3. It worked; games that were tied at the end of regulation were more likely to end in the five-minute OT period than before, thus reducing the frequency of shootouts. 

Now, the NHL is dealing with its latest cumbersome gameplay issue: the offsides challenge. A half-measure isn’t as desirable in this case. No more half measures, Walter. 

The offsides challenge was introduced with good intentions, but it’s simply too easy to abuse. And really, when the option is there with only a timeout at risk, why wouldn’t a coach roll the dice that maybe a guy was offsides entering the zone 29 seconds before the goal was scored? 

The option needs to be taken away. Rely on blueline cameras and automatically look at anything close on a goal that’s scored off the rush. It would take two seconds and would save the refs from another Matt Duchene incident while saving the viewer a lot of time. Let anything else go the way of the dry scrape. 

There’s the temptation to instead tweak -- maybe make offsides challengeable if the entry in question occurs within however many seconds -- but that would just mean more time would be wasted seeing if a play was even challengeable. 

It was proposed at the GM meetings in Chicago that if a coach loses an offsides challenge, his team will be assessed a two-minute penalty. That sounds great as a deterrent, but it won’t stop instances of the needless why-the-hell-not challenge. Late in games, coaches might be just as likely to take their chances in a tie game or a one-goal game. That goal allowed could likely be the deciding tally, so if they’re likely to lose anyway, some coaches might still go for the time-wasting Hail Mary. 

And of course, the loser there is the person hoping to catch their train out of North Station in time, or the person who might doze off during the stupid challenge, wake up four hours later on their couch and develop back issues over time. That was a friend, not me. 

Colin Campbell said at the GM meetings in Chicago ahead of the draft that the league is trying to "temper" the negative reaction the offside challenge has received from players and fans. 

There’s really only way to do that, and that’s to get rid of it.

See you in a year when we’re going through the same thing with goalie interference. 

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

CHICAGO – With the 2017 NHL Draft officially wrapped up and the proverbial eve of NHL free agency upon us, there wasn’t anything to get particularly alarmed or excited about when it comes to the Bruins actions over the last few days.

The Bruins lost a potential-filled defenseman that might never actually realize any of it in Colin Miller, and they followed up the expansion draft subtraction with an average draft class where they addressed defense, goaltending and their depth up front. But at the same time, it didn’t really feel like the Bruins got anybody in the draft that they were particularly bowled over by, and the B’s lost a potential trade chip once they’d used their 18th overall pick in the first round to select smooth-skating defenseman Urho Vaakenainen.

MORE: NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

The sense at this address, though not confirmed by anybody inside either organization, is that the Bruins weren’t willing to trade a first-round pick as part of a package for Wild defenseman Marco Scandella, and would have preferred Jonas Brodin if they were going to give up that kind of asset. Don Sweeney confirmed that Boston’s first-round pick was in play, but stressed it was for “target specific” players that the Bruins coveted.

A deal was never worked out for one of those “target specific” players, so the Bruins continue to move on and hope that something breaks over the next few weeks.

“I was on record saying we’d be offering our first-round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to do it, so we went ahead with our own pick. I was target specific on a few players and there were other considerations being discussed.

“It’s an area we’d like to address and help our team currently. I’m not going to stop exploring areas where we can improve our club. It’s hard to tell [which way trade talks will go]. Maybe people will feel that picks from next year’s draft will be even better, or they like that pool of prospects a little bit better. It’s hard to tell [where trade discussions will go], to be perfectly honest.”

At least the Bruins were right on time with picking a Finnish player in the first round as a record six players from Finland were nabbed in the first round of the draft, and one would hope that means all will benefit from the hockey talent streaming out of that Scandinavian country right now. It will take years to determine how Vaakenainen, Jack Studnicka, Jeremy Swayman and the other members of the 2017 draft class ultimately pan out, but it sure doesn’t feel like the same outpouring of talent as in 2015 when Brandon Carlo, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jake DeBrusk and the rest of the Bruins draft picks officially entered the Black and Gold system.

B’s assistant GM Scott Bradley admitted as much when discussing the entire draft class on Saturday afternoon at the United Center, home of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Bruins got good value, addressed organizational needs and felt good about the players they picked in each and every spot, but there isn’t going to be a Charlie McAvoy or David Pastrnak coming out of a really “meh” group of draft-eligible hockey players.

“Our first rounder is somebody we’re excited about. His skating is close to what we call a ‘5’ in our system. He’s a left-shot. You compare his skating to [Paul] Coffey at times, really mobile and transition defenseman,” said Bradley, who hadn’t run a draft board for the Bruins in roughly ten years while Wayne Smith and Keith Gretzky had been in charge of the Black and Gold’s scouting operations. “I think we addressed a lot of our needs. It wasn’t sexy, but I think we did well in addressing a lot of the organization’s needs.”  

So with the amateur draft and the expansion draft both in the rearview mirror, the Bruins must move on in the roster-building process while still facing a pair of big needs in top-6 left wing and top-4 left side defenseman. They may be able to nail down one of those needs by swinging a trade with their list of available assets including Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes, Jakub Zboril, Adam McQuaid and next year’s first-round pick.

A deal that would send a Spooner-led package elsewhere might be enough to land the big, skilled, young winger that the Bruins are currently in the market for, and provide top-6 insurance in case DeBrusk, Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork all aren’t quite ready for full-time duty skating, passing and finishing off plays with David Krejci.

It might be that the Bruins have to begin thinking about free agency as a viable place if they want to land a solid, top-4 D-man for the next handful of years to pair with Charlie McAvoy. Karl Alzner headlines a list of players that would be a good fit for the Black and Gold, but they would absolutely have to overpay for a 28-year-old UFA that’s averaged 20:13 of ice time per game over the course of his 591 career games with the Washington Capitals. More affordable would be a young, free agent defenseman like Dmitry Kulikov, who is still extremely young as he comes off a rough year with the Buffalo Sabres after getting traded there from Florida. Or other potentially available left-shot free agent defenseman like Brendan Smith or Ron Hainsey could be stop-gap answers for the Bruins until the next crop of D-men in Jakob Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Vaakenainen, and others, are ready to step up just like Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy did last season.

The bottom line is that the Bruins did perfectly fine over draft weekend with no true idea until a few years have passed for these teenage prospects, but they need to aim higher than “perfectly fine” with their offseason if they want to be any better at the NHL level next season. A big move or two will be needed from the Bruins front office if the B’s are going to make the jump that everybody wants to see from them over the next couple of seasons.