By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON Theres no doubt Tim Thomas talked the talk after Saturday afternoons epic collapse in Tampa Bay, guaranteeing the Bruins -- reeling after blowing a 3-0 lead and finding themselves in a 2-2 series tie with Tampa Bay -- would beat the Lightning.
And everybody saw him walk the walk Monday night in a legendary Game 5 performance.
The 37-year-old was shaky on Saturday, surrendering a pair of five-hole goals and showing no real ability to stop the bleeding once things got rolling for Tampa Bay. He could have stepped up and stifled the Lightning's second-period rally, but it just didnt happen.
But Thomas perhaps in a fit of frustration, inspiration or just plain old self-reliant belief said after the game the Bruins would win the conference finals in a brazen way that echoed through the dressing room like a Mark Messier guarantee of the Rangers run through the playoffs.
Thomas didnt badmouth the Lightning and he didnt dismiss the worthiness of his opponent. But he did guarantee the Bruins would prevail in Game 5 and, subsequently, the series.
He proved to be hockeys version of Nostradamus, at least as far as Game 5 was concerned. And he was the main reason why.
Thomas withstood an early Tampa Bay onslaught -- at one point, the Lightning had a 20-7 edge in shots on goal -- made 33 saves overall and never wavered after allowing a quick goal on a defensive breakdown 69 seconds into the game. He led the way to a 3-1 victory that gives the Bruins a 3-2 series edge heading back to Tampa for Wednesday night's Game 6.
Hes a great goalie, and when you look at the great goalies of the past they have that confident swagger about them, said Chris Kelly. Its not an arrogance, but a confident swagger. Timmy definitely has that. Thats part of what makes him great."
Thomas saved the Bruins bacon as he turned away several Tampa Bay scoring bids in the first period just as his team struggled mightily to find its bearings.
But that was just the beginning. No, the best work for Thomas came in the final 20 minutes.
The save of the game -- and probably the save of this years playoffs -- came midway through the third period when the Bs were clinging to a 2-1 lead. An Eric Brewer shot caromed hard off the back boards and directly to the opposite side of the net from where Thomas had been standing guard.
Troublemaker extraordinaire Steve Downie was waiting by the left post ready to hammer home the loose puck, and he flipped the it right back at the bottom of the open net. But Thomas refused to give up on the puck, just as hes obstinately refused to give in on his career so many times.
Thomas somehow threw his paddle wildly at the shot and knocked it harmlessly away from the crease.
That save on Downie is a game-saver," said Kelly. "It was unbelievable.
Thomas had protected the one-goal lead with the most breathtaking of his 33 saves, and he left Downie in an apoplectic state of shock once the Lightning forward realized he hadnt scored.
Thomas might have just taught the same important lesson to all of the young goaltenders that watching him put on a show when his team needed him most in the conference finals: dont ever give up on play and battle to the end.
Heres Thomas recollection of the Downie shot, and the save that was among his best of all times:
First I want to say that my recollection might not be exactly what the video is, thats happened on a couple of goals lately. The way I remember, I got it out to the point and there were a couple of different sets of screens. There was one set of our forwards and their guy up top and one set of their guys and our guy down closer to me. So I saw him getting ready to take the shot but I couldnt see the puck and thats probably why he had to shoot wide, is our guy was taking away the shooting lanes.
I picked it up somewhere about half way to me but I saw it was going wide. I was out toward the top of the crease so I didnt have time to get my whole body back. With the way the new boards are nowadays in all the arenas, you got to be on your toes with the big bounces. The big bounce came out and, you know, it was just a reaction and desperation. Ill admit I got a little bit lucky there.
The stop on Downie was downright marvelous, but Thomas had had another doozy of a save earlier in the third period.
Blair Jones was coming at the Boston net with a head of steam and the puck on his stick, but was pretty tight to the net and didn't have a lot of ice to operate. Jones shot ticked off Thomas shoulder -- when it did, Jones raised his stick in the air in triumph -- before it bounced hard off the right piping of the net, and a giant ding sound that pretty much always tells the story.
Thomas showed a combination of guts, guile and a little bit of healthy swagger in predicting the Bruins would win the series following one of the worst losses in the playoffs, and its worked out well for both the team and player.
Makes you wonder what the otherworldly goaltender has in mind to try closing out Tampa Bay this week, doesnt it?