TAMPA Its pretty easy to get caught up watching Tim Thomas during the Stanley Cup playoffs, especially late in games when he has become a veritable human highlight reel.
And if there ever was a moment to get caught up in Thomas' play, it was when he made an otherworldly stop with the blade of his stick in Game 5.
The stop batted a sure Steve Downie goal out of the net area, keeping the Bruins' one-goal third-period lead intact. It was no surprise Downie sat stunned on the Tampa bench by himself after the game was finished and the Bruins had taken the victory, 3-1.
The save is already going down in the annals of Bruins history as the best postseason save for the Black and Gold since an amazing Reggie Lemelin stop against the New Jersey Devils back in the 1988 Stanley Cup playoffs run -- a gigantic compliment for Thomas.
The compliments have been coming in waves, even from the enemy. Lightning coach Guy Boucher has called the Bs goaltender an enigma on numerous occasions, and he talks about the miracles being performed by the former Vezina Trophy winner.
In some ways, that kind of mystical talk takes away from what the 37-year-old goalie is doing during this playoff run. Its not about any miracles or mysteries with Thomas. Its about an All-Star playing at the very top of his game when it matters most for both himself and his teammates around him.
Thomas is securing his place within the game of hockey, and he has a chance to add something amazing to his Vezina Trophy and All-Star honors. The 33-save effort and Downie save was the latest in his heart-stopping run, but coach Claude Julien worries about his team getting a little too dependent on Thomas coming up with something amazing to bail them out.
You don't want to rely on your goaltender. He's an important part of our team, and it's nice to be able to rely on him, said Julien. But you don't want to go into the game relying on him.
You want to do your job. There's going to be some games, like we said yesterday, that what's important is a win is about finding a way. You fall down 1-0 in the first two minutes of the game, and, you know, it's a team that usually shuts other teams out pretty good."
The funny thing is that rather than rely on Thomas to be brilliant, his stellar play could inspire the Bruins with the confidence that their goaltender is back into "brick-wall" mode. It's a state that would also demoralize the Lightning, and get them thinking its going to take a perfect shot to get the puck in the net. That kind of mindset can set scorers into long scoring slumps when they start trying to pick corners rather than simply shooting at the net through traffic with a quick release.
The series against the Flyers was essentially over after the 52-save effort in Game 2, which so overwhelmed the Philly skaters that they couldnt regain their offensive mojo. There is every chance that could happen to Tampa Bay in Game 6 after the Tim Thomas Show shut them down in the third period on Monday.
Boucher is known for his mind games, but Thomas and the Bruins might just be playing the ultimate mind game with the Lightning right now in the conference finals. The big Cheshire Cat grin Thomas flashed in the third period of Monday nights win while chaos reigned around him was something special. It had to give Tampas scorers the uneasy feeling theyre in for a long road if they're going to beat him.
Speaking of Thomas brilliance, his former college teammate at the University of Vermont, Martin St. Louis, said that the Lightning will once again attack the Bs goalie with traffic and physical contact as they did in Game 4.
That means plenty of Ryan Malone and Vinny Lecavalier attempting to battle their way through defenders to Thomas, and plenty of the collisions that got Thomas pretty hot under the collar in Game 4.
Wednesday we're going to have the same mindset of getting pucks in the net, crashing the net, and making their goaltender . . . giving him a hard game to play, said St. Louis.
Julien would be the first to say that the Bruins managed to win Game 5 despite not playing up their potential. He'd also say that the Bs will have to be much better if theyre hoping to eliminate the Lightning in Florida on Wednesday.
We were still able to hang on and eventually give ourselves a lead. But I think we know we can play better than we did last night, said Julien. That's the positive that you can take out of a win, knowing that we're a team that plays better than what we showed. So we're going to need that kind of effort tomorrow if we plan on winning the hockey game, because they're going to play with desperation.
They're a good team. We've said that all along. They're a dangerous team. Offensively they create a lot of opportunities, even if you play well defensively. They're going to find ways. So we have to be on top of our game tomorrow.
Boucher made official what people had been speculating since the Lightning dropped Game Five at TD Garden the Bolts will go with goalie Dwayne Roloson in an elimination scenario during Game 6 at the St. Pete Times Forum with their season on life support.
The 41-year-old Roloson is an amazing 7-0 in elimination games throughout his career, with the goalie never getting a chance to ride things out during his last playoff run when he suffered an injury deep in the playoff run with the Edmonton Oilers.
Roloson was the guy that took us here, and that's how I felt before last game; but like I said, I felt like it was time to give him a little breather, said Boucher. At the same time I felt that Mike Smith played really well. So it was a perfect situation to put Smitty in.
If something were to go wrong in the previous game, put a new goaltender in for a do-or-die, I don't think it would have been a good moment for anybody. So this is a perfect situation. He's going to be the only rested guy on the two teams.
The bottom line in what makes Bouchers a choice a pretty easy one in a game with potentially dire consequences: Roloson is the guy that the Lightning brought in to be the answer in January, and Smith has started a grand total of six games since March 3. Not a tough choice to go with Roloson with the season on the line given his big game experience even if he is a little banged up.
No word on Tampa Bay catalyst Sean Bergenheim, who pulled up lame in Game 5 away from the action and wouldnt have been able to play for the Lightning had the game been played on Tuesday night. Bergenheim would be a big loss for the Lightning if he cant play hes been one of their biggest offensive weapons as a player thats operated away from the heavy defensive attention paid to the big name Lightning offensive players.