By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
LAS VEGAS Much as the NHL season was about the brilliance of Tim Thomas, the NHL Awards ceremony was The Tim Thomas Show.
The Bruins goaltender made history as only the second goalie to capture the Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup in the same season, which made weathering the old man jokes from host Jay Mohr easier.
Mock his methods if you must, and laugh at his street-hockey saves if youre a butterfly-style snob, but the 37-year-old Thomas is finally comfortable in his own skin after winning everything short of the Hart Trophy.
And hes not making any apologies about it.
Youve got to take the tools that you have and make it work, said Thomas. Im kind of like the redneck of goaltending that duct tapes everything together to fix it. But if you give a redneck a job, theyre going to use whatever tools they have and theyre going to find a way to get the job done. Thats the way that I look at goaltending.
So, to borrow some material from comedian Jeff Foxworthy: If youre best goaltender in the world, then you might just be a redneck.
Thomas sat at the podium following the awards ceremony, and thankfully nobody asked him about congratulating Roberto Luongo -- which was the first thing he did in his speech after accepting the Vezina Trophy. Because this wasnt about anybody else, or about the veiled criticism from the shaking heads that disprove of his frenetic goaltending style, or even about the rest of his teammates, who supported him greatly all year.
The Awards night was about Thomas. His .938 save percentage in the playoffs. His 52-save performance against the Flyers that seemed to suck the fight out of Philly. The stick stop on Tampa Bay's Steve Downie that punched the Bruins' ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals. And an unblinking seven games against the Canucks that nobody will soon forget.
Ive said this to a couple of people since then . . . as good as he was against us, he was on another planet against the Canucks in the Final, said the Lightning's Marty St. Louis, Thomas close friend and former University of Vermont teammate. He was so good, and I was proud watching after getting over not being there myself.
The biggest reason St. Louis and the Lightning weren't there was Thomas.
And his unforgettable season was even more amazing when you consider where he was a year ago at this time. Thomas had suffered a hip injury that required surgery, had lost his job to Tuukka Rask, and was the subject of trade conversations as general manager Peter Chiarelli -- seeing an opportunity to get Thomas' 5 million cap hit off the books -- was at least taking phone calls about the goalie's availability.
That was exactly what Thomas was referring to Wednesday night when he talked about getting his self-respect back. He arrived at training camp with blank white pads instead of the Bruins' colors, and with the team's spoked B logo missing from his mask.
Instead he had painted the lucky quarter worn around his neck in the forehead portion of the mask, and began playing with a me-against-the-world fury that characterizes Thomas at his very best.
I had a pretty good idea early into camp that I would at least be able to play at a level that was high enough to play in the NHL -- and earn my own self-respect back, said Thomas. So it wasnt a difficult thing. Going through the hard work last summer in recuperating from the hip surgery that it took to get myself back to the level I wanted to be at . . . that was a lot of hard work.
I was doing three workouts a day. I was pretty much exhausted all the time because thats what I knew it would take. But it all paid off. Its a story that if you put in the work it will pay off.
It paid off immediately for both Thomas and the Bruins. In a harbinger of the greatness to come, Thomas won his first eight games, breaking Tiny Thompsons 73-year-old club record for consecutive wins at the start of a season, and just kept right on going. He set the NHL record for save percentage with a .938 mark, led the NHL with a 2.00 goals-against average, and finished second in the league with a career-high nine shutouts. The Vezina Trophy voting doesnt include postseason performance, but if it did it would have only solidified Thomas selection.
While Thomas owes a great debt to his supporting cast of defenders, especially the giant force that is Zdeno Chara, the Bs captain realizes the team owes that very same overwhelming piece of credit back to the goalie.
We know without him it would be so much harder . . . or maybe even impossible to win the Stanley Cup, said Chara. He's been working really hard, he's been very focused, since the beginning of training camp, really, and he's continued to get better and better.
He's so competitive, we all know that. He just wants to win and that's what you need from a goalie.
The question now becomes what Thomas will do for an encore. He wont be nearly as fanatically motivated to prove himself next year after winning every possible award and Thomas is the key to Boston's hopes of becoming the first team in 15 years to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
But he has a message to everyone:
Dont doubt Tim Thomas.
Its something that was instilled in me as a child," he said. "I grew up believing in the American way and the American way is that if you set your mind on something and work hard on it, then you can achieve it.
Just the latest act in The Tim Thomas Story, with Wednesday nights awards show as another dramatic, bling-inspired scene.