By Joe Haggerty
PHILADELPHIA There were probably a thousand different scattered thoughts firingthrough the head of Tim Thomas as he was carving out a legendary playoff performance against the Philadelphia Flyers Monday night.
Thomas and the Bruin defense gave up a pair of goals in the first 10 minutes of a crazy, rush-filled first period, but the Bs goalie simply locked it down after his team fell behind, 2-0.
Thomas made a career-high 52 saves in all, with 32 coming in the third period and overtime as he helped Boston steal a 3-2 victory in Game Two over the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center.
The 37-year-old goalie was certainly basking in the win and enjoying the starring role he played in a victory that his team probably didnt deserve. The Bruins certainly wouldnt have captured it if it werent for their Vezina Trophy-worthy world beater.
As the game went on, I was just trying to work hard . . . By the time the third period rolled around I was feeling really good, said Thomas. Fortunately I was feeling good at the right time because they were getting some shots and opportunities. They were keeping me busy in the third period.
But one other thought must have crept into the mind of a goalie who's had to prove people wrong at every level of his career. Perhaps Thomas was wondering whether the Flyers would be interested in him now.
It seems like years ago now, but there was a time last summer when the Bruins were exploring all their salary-cap relief options. Those choices included trading Thomas and his 5 million salary cap tag to a willing team, and people close to Thomas let it be known that Philadelphia is the place he most wanted to go.
But the Flyers werent interested in a middle-aged goaltender coming off major hip surgery and an off season during which he lost his starting job to young understudy Tuukka Rask.
One would think Flyers GM Paul Holmgren might want to rethink that strategy after watching Thomas push his record in Philadelphia to 8-0-0 against the Flyers in the regular season and playoffs.
Holmgren can't be satisfied with the Flyers' current goalie situation. Their coaching staff has made five goaltender changes in nine playoff games, including the back-and-forth yo-yo between Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky in Game Two.
Thomas certainly knows that teams like the Flyers, Capitals, Lightning and Sharks passed up chances to deal for him because, perhaps, they thought he was washed up. But the Bs All-Star goaltender has taken that disbelief and turned it into fuel.
Perhaps one of those teams will win the Stanley Cup, or perhaps Thomas will end each of their playoff seasons in the ultimate act of hockey revenge served cold on the frozen sheet. The truth in Philly, according to more than one hockey source, is that the Flyers a) were never truly interesting in taking on Thomas, and b) dont believe that a goaltender should sit so prominently on the NHL salary-cap food chain.
That certainly doesnt look like the right kind of philosophy, given whats currently going on in the creases of Bruins and Flyers.
Thomas climbed into The Zone starting in the third period, as he engineered a series of breathtaking saves against James van Riemsdyk and Mike Richards (18 shots between those two players in Game 2), but he saved his best for last.
The Flyers won a faceoff deep in the Boston zone in the waning seconds of the third period, and it looked like Philly had itself a win when van Riemsdyk leveled a quick little spin-o-rama wrist shot through a screen. Somehow Thomas picked up the puck and kicked the shot away with a right leg pad save, and then got a little lucky when Daniel Briere fumbled the puck with a lot of open space near the left post.
That momentary stumble gave Dennis Seidenberg a chance to recover, and he shooed the puck away from the net and any further threats from the dangerous Flyers.
This is one of the most dangerous faceoff teams in the defensive zone when you play against them, said Thomas. Theyve got a lot of different things they can do and theyve already scored once in this series on a play like that. So I knew the face-off could be dangerous.
For just a second there it went behind a screen and I saw it just as van Riemsdyk was throwing it at the net. I saw it so late that I couldnt control the rebound, and I saw the puck go to Daniel Brieres feet. In that 1100th of a second I thought it might be over because hes one of those guys that gets them. He fumbled it just long enough for Seidenberg to get over and block one, and then I was just waiting for that buzzer. It was a relief when that buzzer happened.
Thomas knew he was both good and lucky in that flurry of action at the end of the period, but thats been the story of his career as hes created luck between the pipes through ideal positioning and expansive knowledge of the dangerous offensive players around the NHL.
Those things put Thomas in a class by himself when hes rested, motivated and feeling just a slight pang of having something to prove. That's the way he was all season as he likely earned a second career Vezina Trophy along with an NHL-record .938 save percentage.
But doing it in the playoffs is especially satisfying, since he had only a single playoff series win under his resume headed into this postseason.
Andrew Ference has always believed in Thomas, and didn't hesitate when asked when he knew it was going to be a special year for Thomas.
Training camp," said Ference.
"He hasnt missed too many nights, he added. Timmy was pretty sick. There is nobody better than him. Hes unbelievable. That third period and overtome Monday night was just a clinic. I dont even know what to say anymore.
One guy thats definitely glad a Thomas trade was never made: the guy that would have had to pull the trigger.
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli walked out of the Bs dressing room postgame and breathed a sigh of relief, as if a dramatic weight had been lifted by the victory. He knew he watched his team win a game in which they were outplayed because of a scalding hot goalie. And he knows just how demoralizing that can be to a team doing everything possible to score.
Tonight Thomas was ridiculous. Hes gotten better every game, said Chiarelli. Thats one of the best goaltending performances Ive seen in a long time. Were just hoping to get more of it.
The Flyers are hoping their goaltending nightmare ends soon, but its beginning to look more and more like this might be the Year of Tim Thomas.