Thomas, Roloson took roads less traveled

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Thomas, Roloson took roads less traveled

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON To understand the upcoming battle between 37-year-old Tim Thomas and 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson in the Eastern Conference finals, the best place to turn is the past.

The two goalies have climbed, scratched and clawed their way to the top of their profession by defying the odds in their own respective ways. It makes them the most fascinating matchup in the upcoming series between the Bruins and the Lightning.

Thomas was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques 217th overall in 1994, but never got much of a shot in that organization. Roloson went undrafted before hitting Hockey East with UMass-Lowell in 1990 as a 21-year-old. Both have always shown an unwillingness to surrender to self-doubt or despair when things werent going well . . . which was most of the time early in their careers.

When a person has that strong of a will theyre going to find their place, and Thomas has done that, said University of Vermont goalie coach Terry Lovelette, who worked with Thomas at UVM. Its really impressive to see how long he held with it, how hard he worked for it and how absolutely wonderful it is that hes having the success hes experiencing right now. Because he certainly deserved it.

Brian DAccord was in charge of the Bruins' goaltenders during the Robbie Ftorek coaching era in Boston, and he vividly remembers his first contact with Thomas. It was 2001-02, and Thomas was in camp with fellow goalies Byron Dafoe and John Grahame.

Thomas outplayed both of them in the exhibition season, but it didn't matter. They had guaranteed contracts; Thomas didn't. Plus, the Bruins felt their goalie of the future -- Andrew Raycroft -- was waiting in the wings.

But when he got the inevitable word that he was being sent to Providence, Thomas didn't take the news without a fight.

It came down to the last day of camp," recalled D'Accord. "Dafoe was on the books for 3.1 million and Grahame was on the books for about 730,000, so there really wasnt any chance for Thomas to make the team even though he played really well. I used to go on the ice 40 minutes early with the goalies. Then-general manager Mike OConnell and Robbie Ftorek were up in the office giving guys the bad news, and they hadnt got to Timmy yet.

I walk into the locker room and theres Tim Thomas, half-dressed. I know that hes supposed to be cut and sent to Providence because he wasnt on the roster for practice. I didnt know what to do, so I asked him if hed checked in with anybody that morning.

"He looked at me and said, Hey, if they want to cut me then they can drag my ass off the ice.

"So I said Okay, lets go then! They put him on the roster for practice and then let him go afterwards.

Roloson has a similar story. When he was playing Junior 'B' hockey in Ontario, the only college team interested in him was Division III Plattsburgh State.

UMass-Lowell goaltending coach Mike Geragosian happened onto Roloson after losing a goalie prospect named Jeff Levy to the University of New Hampshire. Geragosian and then-Lowell assistant coach Blais McDonald traveled to a small Ontario town just north of Niagara Falls to watch Roloson, who was in his final year of junior eligibility.

After the first period, Geragosian -- now the goaltending coach at Boston University -- slipped a note to McDonald and told him not to open it until after the game.

Roloson stood on his head with a 54-save performance that forced the game into overtime. But when his team lost, he shattered his stick over the crossbar in a fit of pique.

Thats when I told Blais he could open up the note, said Geragosian.

The note read: If Roloson makes 50-something saves and snaps his stick over the crossbar in overtime, then this is our guy.

"So we decided then and there this kid was coming to Lowell," said Geragosian.

That consolation prize turned into an All-American goaltender.

You could see he had that willingness to work and that desire to compete, and the rest was history once he got there," said Geragosian. "He just kept getting better and better as he gained confidence and determination at Lowell.

Still, the road to this year's Eastern Conference semifinals wasn't smooth and straight for either of them. Tampa Bay is Roloson's sixth organization, and he didn't establish himself as a No. 1 NHL goalie until he was in his 30s. Thomas spent parts of four seasons playing in Europe, and was with the P-Bruins as recently as 2005-06 (at the age of 31). He's been Boston's top goalie since 2006-07, but many were clamoring for Tuukka Rask to get his job last season.

But both perservered. Its that unwillingness to surrender and unflagging belief in themselves that have pushed both Thomas and Roloson onward and upward in their careers, and its that little flicker of fire that keeps them going now at their advanced ages.

Fast-forward to the present.

Roloson arrived in Tampa Bay in the middle of the season after the Lightning had floundered badly with a combustible Mike SmithDan Ellis goaltending tandem.

Roloson has stabilized their team." said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "I think that is a pretty fair statement to make . . . He has brought some stability to that hockey club, and he has got some experience.

"He led his Edmonton team to the finals in 2005-06, although he got injured in that last series. (Roloson was hurt in the first game and didn't play again as the Oilers fell to the Carolina Hurricanes.) But hes certainly capable of doing that again.

As for Thomas, his Vezina-caliber regular season has continued into the postseason.

The Bruins have the No. 1 goaltender in the league, and I think in the end we have the same enigma as everybody else, said Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher. Nobody can beat this guy. Were no different. Its going to be extremely difficult. Hes shown he was the best in the regular season, and now in the playoffs hes shown he same. So theres a consistency there. I dont plan on him giving us any freebies whatsoever.

In the playoffs, there hasn't been a dime's worth of difference between them. They have identical 8-3 won-loss records. Roloson leads all playoff goalies with a .941 save percentage and a 2.01 goals-against average; Thomas is second in both categories at .937 and 2.03.

The pictures -- both this season and over their careers -- are so similar that Thomas feels a kinship for Roloson . . . even though their paths have never crossed more than a few games playedagainst each otherand they've neverspoken.

"The reason Roloson has been able to have an NHL career for so long is that hes been able to adapt his game to the way the NHL game has developed, said Thomas. Im along those similar lines. We both learned real technique at an older age, and for him maybe it was even at a little bit of an older age than I did.

For a while there he developed himself into a real butterfly goalie when thats what the NHL called for, and now its opened back up and hes had to adapt. Hes been able to do that, too.

Its been a long, long road for both. But that road may just deliver one of them to a Stanley Cup championship.

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

Bruins know they 'have to go all in' vs. Islanders to control playoff fate

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Bruins know they 'have to go all in' vs. Islanders to control playoff fate

BROOKLYN, NY – The Bruins woke up on Saturday morning and found themselves out of the playoff picture for the first time in months by virtue of the one game in hand the New York Islanders have over the Black and Gold.

That makes Saturday night’s tilt against the Isles at the Barclays Center all the more important. A win will put the Bruins back into the lead for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and a loss would further drop them out of the playoff picture. It’s the biggest game of the season for the Bruins made that much grander in scale because Tuukka Rask is suddenly out with a lower body injury, and the Bruins will need a superior effort to snap a four game losing streak that has them teetering on the brink of playoff oblivion.

With all this swirling around, the Bruins know they can seize control of their playoff destiny with a win that will send them spinning off in the right direction. A loss will…well, that’s something the B’s don’t even want to entertain at this point after collapsing down the stretch in each of the last two seasons.

“With where we’re at right now, we can’t have any moral victories. Now it’s about doing the job and bearing down. We have to go all in tonight and have a big game. Hopefully the guys understand how important of a game it is and we have a big night,” said Brad Marchand. “I think we’re all excited. This is when we love to play when the game means so much, and it has a playoff feel. We’re fighting for our lives right now. It’s a great mood in the room, so hopefully we have a big bounce back.”

While the big picture can’t possibly be ignored given what’s happened with the Bruins this week, Bruce Cassidy also cautioned that simply viewing Saturday night as a two-point game was the best technique for success. Otherwise things could become overwhelming and packed with too much pressure when it should be something the Bruins are embracing rather than dreading.

“I hope our guys are creating some positive energy out there. This time of year you just need to have that mindset that it’s one game at a time,” said Cassidy. “You don’t look back, and you stay in the moment. That’s the message that gets conveyed to the group and for the most part they’ve done a good job with that. We just need to play our game and play it well.

“I truly believe they’ll bounce back. They didn’t have their best on Thursday and I think we’ve addressed that game. I believe they’ll take a lot of pride in their game tonight. Your leaders need to lead and your followers need to follow, and that’s a recipe for success for most teams. We’re no different and I expect that to be the case [against the Islanders].”

On the other side of the coin, it will be look out below if the Bruins drop a fifth straight game and continue a downward spiral as the Leafs, Lightning and Islanders are seem to be hitting their late season stride at the same time. 

Khudobin happy to step in for Rask in an 'important game'

Khudobin happy to step in for Rask in an 'important game'

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The Bruins' original plan was for Anton Khudobin to get one out of the four big games with playoff implications this week, so the fact he’s starting Saturday night vs. the Islanders in a do-or-die game is in keeping with that plan. 

But the 30-year-old Khudobin couldn’t have been planning on making the start vs. the Isles after the Bruins lost the first three games this week vs. Toronto, Ottawa and Tampa Bay, and have lost four in a row in regulation overall.

All of that changed on Friday when Tuukka Rask determined he couldn’t play due to a lower body issue. That leaves the Bruins backup goaltender preparing to start in the biggest game of the regular season. 

Coach Bruce Cassidy said there would still have been a discussion about going with Khudobin tonight based on the way things had gone for Rask over the past four games, but it would have been bold going with the backup over a theoretically healthy No. 1 goalie.

“It would have been a conversation to have with [Rask] based on his physical well-being. He’s not used to the workload, but at this time of year that’s just what happens sometimes,” said Cassidy of Rask, who had started three games in four days before tonight’s DNP. “It would have been a conversation. We were considering Anton for a game this week, and it just so happens that it worked out to be [against the Islanders].”

It’s a good thing that Khudobin has won his past four games  and is playing his best hockey of the season. He said he's determined to be at his best despite his last start coming 10 days ago in Calgary.

“We don’t know what’s going on there [with Tuukka], so I’m just taking it day-by-day,” said Khudobin, who has a solid .916 save percentage in his past five appearances for the Black and Gold. “I’m not thinking too far ahead. It’s always great to play. It’s a really important game, and it’s the time of year where every point is really important.

“I’ve played pretty good and the guys have played really well in front of me. We’ve gotten the wins, so that’s the most important thing. When you get the wins, of course, it always feels really good.”

The Bruins showed a lot of faith in Khudobin signing him to a two-year deal on July 1 to be Rask’s backup. For most of this season he struggled badly in that role while going back and forth to Providence. Still, all of that will be forgotten if Khudobin can battle and compete his way to winning against the Islanders and help stabilize a Bruins team that looks headed for another late-season fall amid a four-game losing streak.