Haggerty: Thomas still proving people wrong

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Haggerty: Thomas still proving people wrong

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

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.

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

Sweeney: 'Helpless feeling' hoping World Cup players return healthy

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Sweeney: 'Helpless feeling' hoping World Cup players return healthy

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It’s a bit of a helpless feeling for an NHL general manager watching their star players participate in an intense hockey tournament like the World Cup of Hockey that doesn’t directly benefit their respective teams.

Not helpless because of the tournament’s outcome, obviously, but helpless because players could return from Toronto dinged up, or even worse significantly injured.

Aaron Ekblad had to shut it down for Team North American with what many speculated was a concussion, and Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray is out a month, or more, with a broken hand sustained playing for the same young guns team.

So, it certainly must have been an uneasy few moments for Don Sweeney when Brad Marchand was pulled from Team Canada’s last game for the concussion protocol after a nasty-looking collision with Team Europe forward Marian Hossa.

Marchand went through the testing, and ended up returning to the game no worse for the wear. But it could have been a lot worse for a Bruins team that can’t afford to be missing Marchand, Patrice Bergeron or Zdeno Chara, who are still playing for teams alive in the semifinal round of the tourney.

“I would expect all of us to have been in a similar situation. For everybody - any general manager, coaches, staff, you're concerned about [injuries],” said Sweeney, talking about the World Cup and Marchand’s close call. “I mean, especially when you realize the stakes are going to go up as the tournament goes along. The pride involved - it's a risk. There's no question, it's a risk.

“But you also want to see them play their best hockey and they're not going to hold back. Yeah, it's a definite concern. You've got your fingers and toes crossed.”

David Pastrnak and Tuukka Rask have already returned to Boston fully healthy. David Backes should be joining the team anytime now after Team USA’s rude dismissal from the tournament. But Sweeney and the Bruins still have their sensors out for the three B’s players taking part that aren’t quite out of the woods yet before returning to B’s camp in one piece. 

 

Bruins lose Vatrano for three months after foot surgery

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Bruins lose Vatrano for three months after foot surgery

BRIGHTON, Mass. – The first bad break of Bruins camp arrived on Saturday with the news that scoring winger Frank Vatrano will be out three months after tearing a couple of ligaments in his left foot.

The 21-year-old winger from UMass and East Longmeadow, Mass., sustained the injury training just prior to the B’s fitness testing for camp and will have surgery on Monday at Mass General Hospital with Dr. George Theodore.

Vatrano had missed the first two days of camp after participating in captain’s practice just about right until the start of main training camp, so the injury must have happened just prior to Thursday’s off-ice testing.

“He had an injury just prior to testing, and it took a couple of days to make sure he had the proper evaluation. He saw a specialist yesterday and he’s scheduled for surgery on Monday,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “One or two of the ligaments were torn when he was doing some running, so he’s out.”

The injury is a big blow for a Bruins team that clearly had plans on Vatrano filling out a top-six role and leaves the door wide open for a young players Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk, Zach Senyshyn or Peter Cehlarik to win an NHL job out of camp. Perhaps a veteran such as camp invite Peter Mueller could secure a job when it didn’t appear to be any room on the NHL roster just a few days ago.

Either way it’s damaging to a Bruins team that was relying on goal-scoring and explosive forward play from a guy who topped 40 goals combined in the NHL and AHL last season.

“Obviously it’s a blow. Frankie looked at as an opportunity to [win a top-6 spot]. We all did. How that was going to play out remained to be seen, but he was going to be afforded a position to see if he could grab hold of it,” said Sweeney. “So obviously, he’s disappointed, and we are as well. You look at as with all injuries…it’s a setback. But the doctors feel very good that three months from now he’ll be able to play and move forward.”

It’s not officially NHL training camp until a major injury strikes, so now the Bruins are in the middle of it after learning they’ll lose Vatrano until Christmastime. 

Here's Vatrano's "Countdown to camp" profile