Time to stop doubting Thomas?

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Time to stop doubting Thomas?

By Michael Felger

When Canadiens forward Brian Gionta broke down the right wing five minutes into the second overtime on Saturday night at the Garden, the stakes couldn't have been much higher -- either for the Bruins or the man Gionta would ultimately try to beat for the game-winner.

The Bruins' latest blood-duel with Montreal was knotted at two games apiece and the next goal would not only shift the balance of the series, but help determine the future of many of the players on the B's bench, as well as those behind it.

Face it. Jobs and reputations are on the line for the Bruins this postseason. For Claude Julien, another early exit will certainly mean an exit from Boston. For the players, the questions are more subtle, but important nonetheless.

Who, for example, is Tim Thomas? We know he's been one of the best regular-season goalies in the NHL for about four years. He's about to win his second Vezina Trophy and just set a record for regular-season save percentage.

Yet his postseason career has been undistinguished. Through three playoff series -- spanning one round in 2008, which he lost, and two in 2009, which he split -- Thomas' play has been good but rarely great. Yes, he hasn't cost the Bruins many games. But he hasn't won them many, either. He's been . . . fine. And that's about it. His up-and-down play over the first four games against Montreal only encapsulated his postseason career.

So as Gionta bore down the right slot, the question hung in the air: Had he ever, truly stolen a playoff game for the Bruins? If he had, it was hard to recall.

Then Travis Moen's pass found Gionta's stick and Thomas finally, unequivocally, answered.

Thomas' sprawling save on the Gionta one-timer was perhaps his finest moment as a member of the Boston Bruins, capping what had to be the most important and clutch performance of his NHL career (44 saves). Above all, it helped give the Bruins a 3-2 series lead over the Canadiens and put them one step closer to the second round, where jobs and reputations will be on the line all over again.

And that's what makes the real takeaway from Thomas' brilliant performance on Saturday the future, not the past.

What if that game is the one that "breaks the seal" for Thomas? What if it becomes a regular occurrence and not just an aberration?

In other words, what if Thomas becomes that guy?

Then you'd have to look at the Bruins differently, wouldn't you?

So that's the question I'm asking heading into Tuesday's Game 6 in Montreal.

What's it going to be, Tim: More games like that? Or one-and-done?

E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to Felger on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation

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Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while wishing everybody a safe and relaxing Memorial Day weekend. 

*Apparently Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette has yet to try Nashville’s hot chicken despite his time behind the Preds bench. It’s okay, I have yet to try it either in my handful of visits to Music City. 

*Good stuff from PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jason Brough. Apparently it wasn’t so easy to make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed when it came time for director Doug Liman to cut Swingers together

*Sidney Crosby cares about the history and the issues of the game, and has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation despite the hate that always comes with such responsibility. 

*Puck Daddy examines Crosby’s performance in the playoffs, and the odds of him winning another Conn Smythe Trophy. 

*The Penguins have made it to the Stanley Cup Final without Kris Letang for their playoff run, and that’s an amazing accomplishment. 

*Erik Karlsson said that he will be tending to his injured foot next week, and expects a full recovery for next season after a brilliant run with his Ottawa Senators

*Larry Brooks again rails against the Stanley Cup playoff structure and it’s relation to an “absurd regular season.” Say what you will, but the fact the Penguins are there for a second straight season shoots down some of the absurdity stuff in my mind. The best team from the East is where they should be and they did it without Kris Letang to boot. 

*Chicago Blackhawks prospect Alex Debrincat is confident his abilities will translate to the NHL despite his size after taking home honors as the best player in junior hockey this season. 

*For something completely different: Apparently there’s a hard core comic book geek gripe that “The Flash” is burning through bad guys too quickly. This would make sense if they couldn’t revisit these bad guys at any point, but they absolutely can go back to a big bad like Grodd anytime they want. 

Playoff run ends for Providence Bruins, but some promising signs

Playoff run ends for Providence Bruins, but some promising signs

It was the longest run that the P-Bruins have had in a few years and another unmistakable sign that the future is brightening for the Black and Gold, but the Bruins AHL affiliate has ended their playoff push in the Calder Cup semi-finals. 

The Providence Bruins fell by a 3-1 score to the Syracuse Crunch on Saturday night to lose to the Crunch in five games when the best-of-seven series was set to return to Providence this coming week. The P-Bruins had vanquished the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and Hershey Bears in the first two rounds of the Calder Cup playoffs before finally exiting against Syracuse. 

Though it’s over, it’s clear some of the Bruins prospects made a nice step forward over the second half of the AHL season and then into the Calder Cup playoffs. With the Calder Cup Finals yet to start, B’s forward prospect Danton Heinen stands as the second-leading playoff scorer in the entire AHL with nine goals and 18 points in 17 playoff games after really struggling in the first half of his first pro season while bouncing back and forth between the NHL and the AHL. 

This could bode well for the skilled Heinen and his hopes to make the leap to the NHL in the near future after a stellar collegiate career at the University of Denver. AHL journeymen-types Wayne Simpson and Jordan Szwarz were the next two top scorers for the P-Bruins in the playoff run, but Jake DeBrusk had a strong playoff season as well while popping in six goals in 17 games. DeBrusk led all Providence players with his 54 shots on net in the 17-game playoff run for Providence, and he headlined a group that included B’s prospects Ryan Fitzgerald, Zach Senyshyn, Matt Grzelcyk, Peter Cehlarik (who succumbed to shoulder surgery during the playoffs), Emil Johansson and Robbie O’Gara all getting some vital playoff experience. 

Both Heinen and DeBrusk will be strong candidates for jobs on the wing with the Boston big club when training camp opens in the fall after strong showings in the postseason. 

On the goaltending side, Zane McIntyre was solid for the P-Bruins at times while in 16 of their 17 playoff games with a .906 save percentage. But it was Malcolm Subban that was playing at the very end of the playoff run for Providence and featured a sterling .937 save percentage in the four AHL playoff games that he appeared in this spring after an up-and-down regular season. McIntyre had an .857 save percentage and 4.37 goals against average in the final series against Syracuse, and looked a little spent like many of the other P-Bruins players once they’d unexpectedly made it to the third round of the AHL postseason.  

The only unfortunate part of Providence’s run is that newly signed youngsters Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson couldn’t be a part of it after signing and then appearing in NHL games following a cut-off date for AHL playoff rosters. Both missed on an experience that could have been very conducive for their professional development, and uncovered a wrinkle in the NHL/AHL transaction process that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a developmental league.