Haggerty: Writing off Thomas led to success


Haggerty: Writing off Thomas led to success

By Joe Haggerty

RALEIGH, N.C. Tim Thomas had an inkling there might be something special on tap for him this season.

But he kept all of that to himself when his hockey year began.

To just about everyone in the hockey world Thomas was a 36-year-old goaltender coming off major hip surgery, and looking to rebound from a subpar season when it comes to his lofty puck-stopping standards.

Tank had also lost his job to Tuukka Rask as last had unfolded for the Bruins, and admitted there were doubts about what would happen in Boston.

So to say the chips were cast downward for Thomas wouldnt be overstating it.

But anyone that knows Thomas the success story also knows that being stuck in the shadow of doubt is when he does his best work.

Doubt him, paint him into a corner or try to keep him down, and he fights with everything in his considerable power.

So Thomas worked harder than he ever had before last summer to both rehab his surgically repaired hip and to shut plenty of people up.

Then something amazing happened: he became even better than he was during his Vezina season of two years ago. The first of many honors was coming back to his third straight NHL All-Star game.

The All-Star game was a goal of mine, and the season was too. They kind of go hand in hand to a certain extent, said Thomas, who participated in the first ever one-on-one goalie sprint in the fastest skater competition during the SuperSkills challenge on Saturday night. I was thinking about this year all summer. I actually talked to an uncle before the season, and I was looking at the season in boxing terms. I was going into the biggest fight of my life.

Thats the way I went into all summer, and I was training for it like it was the biggest fight of my life. I was rehabbing my hip and training at the same time. I wanted to see how good I could be before it was too late. Thats how I really approached it this summer.

True to Thomas form, he sped right into the biggest fight of his life and knocked adversitys block off with a series of big right-handed paws.

Thomas is now dropping jaws in the hockey world from Sunrise, Florida to Thunder Bay with the greatest season by a goaltending in the modern NHL era through the All-Star break with less than 40 games remaining to be played.

Thomas leads the NHL with a 1.88 goals against average, a .945 save percentage, seven shutouts and is enjoying the best season for a goaltender in the modern era of the NHL a notion confirmed by the fact no goalie has carried a save percentage so high this late into a season since the numbers first starting being recorded officially as a statistic.

He seems to be a shoo-in for his second Vezina Trophy provided he can maintain something close to his current pace in the second half of the year, and theres little doubt hell get Hart Trophy consideration if he can keep things up.

Thomas would be the first Hart Trophy winner since Jose Theodore won it for the Montreal Canadiens in 2001-02, and before that Dominik Hasek the goalie Thomas is most often compared to in style and action between the pipes -- won it in two straight seasons for the Buffalo Sabres from 1996-98.

His fellow All-Star goalies know theyre watching something special, and thats obvious with the collective shaking of the head a reporter receives when the subject of Thomas season is brought up as topic of conversation.

Its amazing really, said Cam Ward. I look at those numbers, and I shake my head and ask how is he doing that? Its a credit to him. Hes obviously having a great year and playing at the top of his game. A .945 save percentage? If he lets in two goals his save percentage is going to drop!

Watching him play, hes very determined and he works hard on every puck. Its really paying off for him.

Thomas had some doubts in his head coming into the season amid trade rumors and surgery, but he simply hasnt looked back once after reclaiming his starting job in the second game against the Phoenix Coyotes in Prague.

Since then he battled through some shaky defensive performances by the Bruins early on when he constantly faced odd-man rushes and breakaways, but things have settled in lately for both goaltender and team.

I know nobody got to witness my lockout year in Finland, but that was close to this. And my first year out of college in Finland was close to this. It wasnt the NHL stage, but if you look at my numbers they were very similar, said Thomas, who was asked how much was him and how much was a result of solid Bruins defense. I wasnt blaming my defense or anything, but the reality is that the new NHL is just harder on goalies than the old NHL.

This year has been a mix: there have been some times when the team has really relied on me and there have been other times when the team played well and has bailed me out on a few occasions. Im just thinking of Pittsburgh when we came back and won 7-4, and came back against them. Especially over the last 2-3 weeks, though, the team has played very solidly in front of me and its taken a lot less energy from me.

With two Vezina Trophies and perhaps a Stanley Cup or two in his future if things go exceedingly well along with a great success story of dogged triumph over the odds theres always the kind of late career run that the Hockey Hall of Fame loves to reward as they did with one of Thomas hockey heroes, Johnny Bauer.

The Stanley Cup is still missing from my resume, said Thomas. The Hall of Fame is still a pipe dream. If it ever happened it would be because I was focusing on the now -- and just playing as hard as I could for as long as I could.

The fact that things like the Hart Trophy, Hall of Fame and Stanley Cup are being mentioned in conversation with Thomas means a couple of different things: Thomas is even better now than he was during his Vezina Trophy season, and nobody should ever doubt him again in a career dominated by doubters continuously proven wrong.

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

Haggerty: Bruins continue to stumble against Canadiens at home

Haggerty: Bruins continue to stumble against Canadiens at home

BOSTON -- One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Much like Charlie Brown was never going to actually kick the football before Lucy pulled it away, it feels like the Bruins are never again going to beat the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden. They failed again Saturday night, never holding a lead at any point as they dropped their ninth straight home game to the Habs, 4-2.

Bruins-Canadiens games in Boston have become the hockey version of 'Groundhog Day', as the same patterns emerge over and over again: Montreal's speed forces the Bruins into mistakes with the puck; Habs players draw the B’s into taking bad penalties; Carey Price dominates in goal. It's been that way ever since the last Bruin victory over Montreal at the Garden, on Jan. 12, 2012. To put it perspective, Tim Thomas and Tyler Seguin were still Bruins back then.

Saturday night's loss, though, had a little added twist: The B's second-period woes, such a problem last year, reared its ugly head again.

“[The second period was] terrible, and that’s where it really hurt us," said Claude Julien. "I thought we played well (in the first period) . . . But the second period came back to haunt us. We were flat coming out. We didn’t make good outlet passes, and we spent way too much time in our own end, and because of that, it gave them some momentum. And by the end of it, we cheated ourselves a little bit, and pucks ended up in the back of our net . . .

"[When] you give up four goals to Montreal, and you have Price at the other end, it’s pretty hard to beat that team. So we needed to be better . . . [We] shot ourselves in the foot with some real poor mistakes, and we can’t afford to do that against the Montreal Canadiens."

The Bruins were essentially done for after a couple of very typical Boston-Montreal plays went against them in the middle 20 minutes.

The first was a defensive coverage breakdown in the D-zone that allowed both Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher to operate with time and space. Five B’s players simply watched as Gallagher smoked a one-timer from the outside of the left circle that eluded Anton Khudobin.

Then, later in the period, John-Michael Liles misread a play where he pinched deep in the offensive zone and couldn’t control the puck. As a result, Alexander Radulov worked a 2-on-1 with Phillip Danault to skilled perfection on a typical Habs transition play.

"I think our second period has got to be better overall," said Patrice Bergeron. "We talked about them having a good forecheck . . . [but] we didn’t make the easy plays too many times. When you do that, it creates turnovers and you spend more time in your zone than you’d like to."

From there, it was just more of the same. Playing with the lead, Montreal was able to neutralize Bergeron and Brad Marchand; Bergeron never got a shot on goal. Price came up big when he had to, shutting down a couple of Ryan Spooner chances.

And Bruin weaknesses were exposed, things Julien and the coaching staff may have to address. It looks like it’s time to move on from the Joe Morrow/Torey Krug defense pairing; it's simply not working. (Krug, in particular, was a minus-3 and made mistakes all over the ice.) They also may need to switch things up with the forwards, as they're getting zippo offensively from their second and third lines.

To their credit, the Bruins never packed it in. They hung in and made plays in the third period to keep the game close, right up to the 6-on-3 advantage they had at the end. But there are no consolation prizes or moral victories in the Boston-Montreal rivalry, especially when the Habs have made it so one-sided.

To be a true rivalry, you need equal rivals. And the Bruins, especially at home, aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

Bruins need to 'find a way to start playing with a lead'

Bruins need to 'find a way to start playing with a lead'

BOSTON -- There’s only so long that a team can hope to thrive, or even survive, in the NHL if they’re constantly chasing the game on the scoreboard, and chasing the puck after digging themselves a hole. The Bruins have been that team in the first couple of weeks during the regular season, and made it five times in five games that they’ve given up the game’s first goal in an eventual 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden.

It’s a pattern that is long past getting old to Bruins head coach Claude Julien, who can’t seem to play the front-runner this season despite three comebacks that have allowed for a 3-2-0 record overall this season.

“I hope it’s not a habit. It’s certainly not what we’re looking for, but there’s no doubt. I think it’s pretty obvious that with the amount of games we’ve played, five games, we haven’t scored first,” said Julien. “We talked about that this morning, trying to get that first goal, and it hasn’t happened yet.”

The start to the game wasn’t really the problem on Saturday night as it’s been a couple of times this season. Instead the Bruins enjoyed a handful of quality scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes against the Habs, but couldn’t come through and finish off those plays when it might have meant an early lead.

Instead it lead to what Julien termed a “terrible” second period that was flat, full of mistakes and ended with the B’s trailing Montreal by a couple of goals. The Bruins scratched and clawed their way to making it a one-goal game in the third period, but that was as close as the Black and Gold would get in losing their ninth straight home game to the arch-rival Canadiens.

“It’s kind of been a story about how things are going for us this far, we’ve got to find a way to start playing with a lead. If you don’t capitalize on your chances, you see what happens when you come out [flat] in the second period,” said Torey Krug, who finished a game-worst minus-3 in the loss for the Bruins. “We had another poor second period and you know it’s kind of… you got to make sure that we put our hand on that and it doesn’t become a thing for the team this year. You see that when you don’t capitalize on chances early, that’s what’s going to happen.”

It’s been a positive development that the Bruins have shown the willingness and backbone to fight back into games after early deficits, and they showed that quality once again on Saturday night by scoring a couple of goals in the third period to keep things close. But the Bruins would be best served if they can start lighting the lamp a little earlier in these games, and see how the other half lives by playing with a comfortable lead every once in a while.