Haggerty: Thomas finally turns it on in the third

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Haggerty: Thomas finally turns it on in the third

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

MONTREAL There were a lot of heavy criticisms being weighed at Tim Thomas heading into Monday nights Game 3 at the Bell Centre home of the Canadiens.

Some were fair and some werent, but he answered all of them with a third period for the ages.

Thomas has obviously proven everything he needs to during the regular season, but hes always had a difficult time recreating his uniquely magical brand of goaltending during the playoffs. The 37-year-old had never really stolen a playoff game for the Bruins in his four years of playoffs, and hes only captured one series victory in four tries at the Stanley Cup playoffs.

His save percentage after two games against Montreal sat at .891. He set the NHL record for that statistic during the regular season so something was clearly amiss.

With questions swirling about his game after a couple of juicy rebounds surrendered in Bostons Game 2 loss, Thomas looked to be on something close to a mission while standing on his head for 14 saves in a 4-2 win for Boston at the Bell Centre Monday night.

I was happy to get the win. The team needed it . . . I needed it, said Thomas, with an allusion toward the less-than-stellar way the series began for Bostons elite goaltender.

That it all came after Thomas had fallen victim to a pair of five-hole scores from Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec in the final two periods was a tribute to the Boston goaltenders determination and experience in dusting off miscues.

It seems big-game experience combined with his still-sharp goaltending skills are finally marrying into a formidable postseason goaltender, serving notice to Montreal attackers theres no discernible difference between regular-season Timmy and playoff Timmy.

Either way, thou shalt not pass with the puck.

Thats Timmy, said Patrice Bergeron. You look at his career and what hes been through, and where hes at now. Hes amazing. You cant question his mental stuff. Hes a battler and hes a competitor. Im just happy to have him with us.

The Thomas highlight stop with four minutes remaining in the third period on Kostitsyn from the edge of right face-off dot was equal parts aggressive and confident. It was a statement that the Canadiens werent going to tie things up easily with a 3-2 score on the board.

Mike Cammalleri set Kostitsyn up with a nifty little drop-back pass, and the Belarus native was turned away by Thomas without any of the superfluous movement that can sometimes creep into the goalie's game. Thomas simply kept telling himself how good it was going to feel once hed mastered the chaos and chances around the net in the third period. He came through with save after save after glorious save.

Call it the Timmy happy place, if you must.

It was nerve-wracking, but it also felt great, said Thomas when asked what it was like to battle through the chaos while Montreal leveled 15 shots at him. It was great to have the lead and be battling from that side of it. You just kept thinking its going to feel good if you end up on top.

After smothering Kostitsyns sniper bid, Thomas pounced on a point-blank chance from Scott Gomez directly on the doorstep and fought off the underachieving Montreal forward for the puck before earning a play stoppage.

It was a little bit street hockey-style at times, but it worked as the Canadiens flooded him with shots in a third period. Montreal outshoot the Bruins by a 15-6 margin, but Thomas never gave an inch after his two miscues.

Steeled by the failures just 48 hours prior on his own home ice, Thomas felt like he had a lot to prove to his teammates, the fans and most importantly to himself after hovering somewhere between average and rented goalie in the first few games of the series.

In the third period Thomas ascended from rented goalie to Vezina Special, and the Habs have to be concerned the notoriously streaky Boston goalie is about to rip off one of his patented otherworldly stretches.

Nothing can get by him when Thomas is feeling it and he seemed to be feeling something in the final 15 minutes.

He made some big saves, said Claude Julien. The fact that he could do that shows a lot of character because theres no doubt hed like to have those two goals back. But he could have had negative thoughts and not been sharp, but doing what he did meant he wanted to redeem himself.

Those saves were huge because if he didnt make them then youre looking at a tie game in their building.

Thomas has learned a lot over his nearly 850 career hockey games in the ECAC, ECHL, Finland, Sweden, the AHL, IHL, NHL, and all points in between and perhaps the biggest lesson is its not about how you start, its about how you finish. And Thomas punched an exclamation point in the final period with the way he controlled everything between his pipes while giving his team some life.

The real Thomas and the rest of the sleeping Bruins have finally woken up, and now the playoff series is about to get very interesting.

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

Saturday, Aug. 27: Adding toughness Habs' priority

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Saturday, Aug. 27: Adding toughness Habs' priority

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, after a busy morning celebrating my 3-year-old’s birthday at the trampoline park. Yee-ha.

*PHT writer Joey Alfieri says that adding toughness was a big offseason priority for the Montreal Canadiens.

*There’s at least one big fan of the Edmonton Oilers trade that brought defenseman Adam Larsson from the New Jersey Devils, and that fan’s name is Mark Letestu.

*Here’s everything you need to know about the Ice Guardians movie premiering this fall that takes a long, balanced look at the NHL enforcers.

*Roberto Luongo has an alibi for the robbery in Winnipeg with one suspect getting away in goalie equipment, and it’s funny as you would expect it to be.

*CSN Washington takes a look at the New York Rangers in their season previews for the Metro Division.

*I’m not entirely sure whether this “RIP Harambe” thing is genuine or meant to be ironic by the largely millenial group that seem so enamored with it, but I think it’s just stupid. I think the same with the crying Jordan meme…also stupid.

*For something completely different: a look at how Triumph the Insult Comic Dog learned how to poop on Trump’s politics.

 

Countdown to camp: Danton Heinen

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Countdown to camp: Danton Heinen

Click here for the gallery.

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2016-17 Bruins. Today: Danton Heinen.

Danton Heinen exploded into a high-profile prospect for the Bruins after finishing among the NCAA’s top scoring players a couple of years ago as a freshman along with a couple of guys named Jack Eichel and Dylan Larkin. 

Since then, Heinen has continued to produce offense at the University of Denver and continued to create offense that leads to points. Now, the 21-year-old Heinen will be entering the professional arena for his first full season with the Bruins and he’ll be attempting to transition from the prospect phase to a regular gig in the NHL. That’s the challenge for a talented player who appears headed into a very good opportunity in NHL training camp.

 

What happened last year

Heinen was every bit as explosive in his second season for Denver as he was in his brilliant freshman campaign. He improved on his scoring with 20 goals and 48 points in 41 games. Then Heinen signed with the Bruins at the end of his sophomore season and played in a couple of pro games in the AHL with Providence as a tune-up for this first full pro campaign with the Bruins organization. Heinen finished with two assists and a plus-1 rating in four games with the P-Bruins and showed the coaches in Providence that he was ready to play and produce with more talented players. If Heinen surprised a little bit as a breakout freshman two years ago, his sophomore follow-up in Denver last season proved to everybody that he wasn’t a fluke.

 

Questions to be answered this season

The real question surrounding Heinen is about his ceiling as an NHL player and just how good he can become as a player with the skills and playmaking abilities to be a top-six forward. He’s proven he can dominate at the collegiate level while admittedly playing with some pretty good teammates at Denver. Heinen showed at the end of the season in Providence that the pro scene might not be much different for him. At this point, Heinen simply needs to go out and prove it against the best players in the world and show that his speed, playmaking and hockey sense are all elite in the AHL or NHL. Heinen’s biggest obstacle might be his size. He'll need to survive as a targeted skill player despite not being much more than the 6-feet, 180-pound range for a forward. It’s about average for a playmaking wing in the NHL, but the hits and attention will be at a much more intense level than anything he faced in the NCAA world.

 

What they're saying

“He’s the type of player that he can play with good players because he’s got high hockey IQ and he’s got really good skill. I think anywhere you put him, he’s smart enough to figure it out. I think you’ll notice him during training camp. It will definitely be up to him, but I think he’ll push some guys.” –Bruins assistant coach Jay Pandolfo on Heinen during last month’s development camp where Heinen soared as a performer.

 
Outlook

While Heinen still has some things he’ll need to prove before he’s a regular contributor for the Bruins, he comes into the Boston fold as an experienced player following two very good seasons at the college level. So, Heinen should be a little closer to plug-and-play for Claude Julien than some of the other young players that have come through the system in the past couple of years. Heinen will still need to flash in camp while being handed a big spot to perform with high-end veterans Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand potentially off playing in the World Cup of Hockey. Heinen also has a much greater chance of winning an NHL job sooner rather than later after the Bruins lost out on the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes and still have a top-six forward opening that somebody is going to fill. Heinen and Frank Vatrano are the two biggest favorites to fill that position, which became vacant when Loui Eriksson departed for Vancouver. Whichever winger loses that battle should be also be a strong candidate for a role on the third line, as well, barring any late veteran signings by the B’s. That set of circumstances leaves a very good situation for Heinen to potentially walk into with the Black and Gold, but he'll still have to show he’s fully capable of seizing his good fortune and good timing.