BOSTON Tim Thomas always knows the odds and the percentages when hes on the ice measuring angles and making mental calculations about what certain players will do to attack him.
He knows what kinds of sticks each player uses, what the tendencies are of the best players in the other uniforms, and the best ways to keep the puck out of the back of his own net. Thats why he leads the NHL with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage, and is well on the way to his second Vezina Trophy in the last three seasons with the Bruins.
Thomas also surely knows that there have been only three Vezina Trophy winners who have gone on to win the Stanley Cup since the award criteria changed prior to the 1982 season (Billy Smith, Grant Fuhr, Martin Brodeur), but that would only add fuel to the fire for the 36-year-old goalie. Hell do his best to be fourth once the playoffs begin in a few weeks, because Thomas essentially locked down the playoff starter role -- and the Vezina -- with a 32-save effort in a 3-0 win over the Blackhawks on Tuesday night at TD Garden.
Thomas said his head is basically empty of anything but the task at hand when he heads out onto the ice, and thats an ideal spot to be in.
Oh yes, its scary sometimes. Im in one of those good places and now the challenge is to keep it there. We really werent scrambly, and position-wise we were very good tonight said Thomas, gleeful at having a clutter-free brain at this point in the season. The shutouts are not that big of a deal. Obviously theyre nice. But its more about the win.
"Having said that, shutouts are nice, Im obviously pulling for them towards the end of the game if I can. But I mean, I think guys should be focused on winning, making sure that we win rather than the shutout.
Thomas was excellent in the first half of the game in what was shaping up as a goaltender battle with Chicago rookie Corey Crawford. He stopped Marian Hossa in the first period on a backhanded bid near the post, and somehow kicked away a Jonathan Toews chance in the second period.
It didnt matter whether it was a point-blank rebound chance or a steamed shot from the point outside the hash marks, Thomas stopped them all the same and made it a personal four-game winning streak.
Plenty of credit goes to the defense in front of Thomas; the B's defense corps has stepped it up in the shot-blocking department, is paying close attention to not screening the goaltender, and is clearing pucks in front of the net. Perhaps even more valuable than that, the defensemen are bumping offensive attackers away from their happy spots on the offense. They made a clinic out of it Tuesday night, keeping Patrick Kane to a quiet three shots.
I played with Kane a few times and played with him at the Olympics, said Thomas. Hes got a really good shot, but he only takes it if hes in the spots where he feels comfortable taking them. We wouldnt let him get into those spots tonight. He floated a couple out toward the net and past it, but he wasnt taking his shot to score because we were keeping him away from the net.
But beyond the defensive efforts and the team playing well in front of him, Thomas has been something special to behold since the beginning of the season. Mark Recchi said he first noticed something special from that first night in Liberec when the Bruins played their exhibition game against the Czech Republic and the 36-year-old has never stopped since that point.
While it was apparent that Thomas had a brief spell of fatigue along with the rest of his teammates in portions of January and February, he is back on his game with only six starts to go until the postseason.
Dont even bother to tell coach Claude Julien that Thomas looked tired at any point, however. Hes not having it, and a perusal of the numbers makes it difficult to argue with him.
You know its amazing, hes been great for us all year and then the minute he only becomes good, everybody talks about him being in a slump, said Julien. I dont think hes ever been bad for us this year. Hes been good sometimes, but hes been great most of the time.
But giving him a little bit of rest and then he fine-tuned himself again, and after a little bit of rest hes back to where he was most of the year. So that was our plan and that was part of it.
Thomas is 4-0-0 against the Devils, Canadiens, Flyers and Blackhawks all with world class offensive players ready to inflict major damage on a lesser goaltender and has a 0.50 goals against average and a .983 save percentage over those four games.
Thursdays shutout of the Blackhawks was Thomas' career-best ninth of the season, and the second within the last week.
Hes been playing like we need him to be playing, and thats why hes a Vezina Trophy candidate again this season, said Johnny Boychuk. Hes been making key saves at the right times, and thats why were in some of these games. Thats what good teams have: a really top level goaltender.
Thomas knows that many of the recent Stanley Cup champions havent boasted elite goaltending, though Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Ward are all pretty accomplished netminders in their own right. But once again the odds are stacked against Thomas as he attempts to win both the Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup and perhaps even the Hart Trophy for good measure in the same memorable season.
But the odds dont bother Thomas a whit. If they did, he wouldnt be defying all of them in the first place with his career in Boston.