Notes: Thomas in the zone for Game 6

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Notes: Thomas in the zone for Game 6

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON While many of the players from the Bruins and Canucks will be dreaming up their ultimate Stanley Cup scenario with the oversized chalice finally in the house for what might be the Canucks' championship clincher in Game 6, Bruins goalie Tim Thomas will have his mind in a far away place.

Like the frozen ponds of hardscrabble Flint, Michigan in the 1980s, where Thomas grew up playing hockey outside with his buddies and developing that famous competitive streak that still courses through his veins.

The 37-year-old goaltender has allowed only six goals in five Stanley Cup Final games, and is sporting one of the lowest goals against average in Cup Finals history despite his team being down 3-2 in the series. He says one of the keys to his success is putting his mind back to the same place he was mentally while playing against the neighborhood kids in Michigan before the sun went down every day in the winter.

Thomas was asked how he manages to focus with millions and millions of hockey fans watching his every move, and he quickly replied that those millions are the first thing he eliminates every time he straps on the equipment. There wasnt any pressure on Thomas as a young kid learning how to play the goalie position, and the wide smile on his face in the third period of Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning told you he was feeling no pressure whatsoever with his teams fate on the line.

There are only 12 players out on the ice at any given time, max, and the ice surface is the same size, said Thomas, who leads all NHL playoff goalies with the 2.07 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. There is only one puck in play at all times and I think you just focus on the nuances of the game.

You dont pretend that the fans arent there, but it shouldnt matter whether you have a packed building or youre playing in an empty rink. Youre focus is on the game and playing the game. You try to get the same focus that you had as a kid when you were out playing on the pond, and youre really just enjoying the game. If you approach it like that it can be really fun.

Thats got to be one of the really scary propositions for the Canucks headed into a potential Game 6 buzz saw after they were pounded 12-1 in the last two games at TD Garden. Vancouver will be dealing with some very real pressure hoping to avoid a Game 7 scenario where anything could happen. On top of it all, Thomas is dominating the postseason just as thoroughly as he did the regular season as the best goaltender in the NHL this season.

Coach Claude Julien surveyed his goaltender and the rest of his players in the room leading up to their biggest game of the season their last game of the year at TD Garden regardless of what happens and felt like the Bruins would adapt the same attitude as Thomas.

I dont think anybody in that dressing room is panicking, said Julien. Were focused. We understand the situation. When youve been through it quite a few times, you certainly know how to deal with it a lot better. Weve certainly been through it enough.

The Bruins have won 9 of their last 10 at TD Garden in the playoffs after struggling on home ice during the regular season, and Julien said that its largely the result of a very the team playing some good hockey in Boston during March and April.

Right near the end of the year we were pleased with our road record, but we talked about establishing ourselves as a better home team, said Julien. That was the last month-and-a-half or so. We started doing that the regular home season and weve carried that into the playoffs. So if there is a good time to be good at home, its certainly tomorrow. We intend to keep that streak going.

Shane Hnidy was noticeably physical with Tyler Seguin in the corners during battle drills at Sunday practice, and prompted more than one animated response from the 19-year-old as the players battled during a drill below the blue line. Seguin recognized after practice that the 35-year-old veteran defenseman was simply trying to get a little more fight out of the young forward.

Its one of those veteran tricks that you learn from out there, I guess, said Seguin when asked what it was all about.

Bruins pest Brad Marchand and close to half of the Bruins were sporting Nose Face Killah T-shirts provided by Barstool Sports after practice on Sunday, and Marchand wore his during an NBC interview that aired on Sunday afternoon.

Thomas was presented with an interesting nugget of information during the media availability on Sunday afternoon: Thomas and Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer Dryden have both graduated from college hockey and worked this deeply into a Stanley Cup Final appearance after their collegiate careers.

Its an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as Ken Dryden, said Thomas. He played at Cornell, the same league that I played college hockey at UVM. When I was in college I remember looking at what hed accomplished and his stats. Those were stats that I was gunning for to try and reach in college he had such a good collegiate career.

I read his book either when I was in college or the year after I was out of college and gained some insight from that. I would like to hope I can finish it off and get the Cup just like he did too.

The smirk couldnt have been any plainer on Patrice Bergerons face when he was asked about Roberto Luongos complaints that he hasnt been complimented by Tim Thomas during the Stanley Cup Final series while the Canucks goaltender has pumped his tires on numerous times.

The answer was very neutral, of course, but the message behind the message couldnt have been any clearer: The Bruins are pretty amused at the daily soap opera that has become Luongo putting his foot in his mouth.

Im trying to stay out of that, said Bergeron. Im not the guy thats going to give you much juice right now. Im worrying about myself and Im worrying about the Bruins.

Bergeron, David Krejci and Milan Lucic comprised the forward spots down low on Bostons first power play unit during Sunday practice, and both Michael Ryder and Seguin split time operating off the half-wall with Mark Recchi and Rich Peverley manning the other two units. Dennis Seidenberg and Tomas Kaberle were the first defensemen points on the top power play unit, and Zdeno Chara and Andrew Ference manned the second unit.

Ryan Kesler didnt practice with the Canucks as he continues to be hampered by unspecified injury. The Vancouver Province is listing the problem as a groin strain, but whatever it is has truly slowed down to one assist and a minus-3 in five games along with whopping 33 penalty minutes worth of frustration. The injury appeared to be aggravated after Johnny Boychuk hit Kesler in Game 2.

Hes fine, said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. Thats all. Keep it day-to-day.

The Bruins have been the Stanley Cup Finals 17 times, but have never played a Game 7.

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

Saturday, Aug. 27: Adding toughness Habs' priority

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Saturday, Aug. 27: Adding toughness Habs' priority

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, after a busy morning celebrating my 3-year-old’s birthday at the trampoline park. Yee-ha.

*PHT writer Joey Alfieri says that adding toughness was a big offseason priority for the Montreal Canadiens.

*There’s at least one big fan of the Edmonton Oilers trade that brought defenseman Adam Larsson from the New Jersey Devils, and that fan’s name is Mark Letestu.

*Here’s everything you need to know about the Ice Guardians movie premiering this fall that takes a long, balanced look at the NHL enforcers.

*Roberto Luongo has an alibi for the robbery in Winnipeg with one suspect getting away in goalie equipment, and it’s funny as you would expect it to be.

*CSN Washington takes a look at the New York Rangers in their season previews for the Metro Division.

*I’m not entirely sure whether this “RIP Harambe” thing is genuine or meant to be ironic by the largely millenial group that seem so enamored with it, but I think it’s just stupid. I think the same with the crying Jordan meme…also stupid.

*For something completely different: a look at how Triumph the Insult Comic Dog learned how to poop on Trump’s politics.

 

Countdown to camp: Danton Heinen

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Countdown to camp: Danton Heinen

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From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2016-17 Bruins. Today: Danton Heinen.

Danton Heinen exploded into a high-profile prospect for the Bruins after finishing among the NCAA’s top scoring players a couple of years ago as a freshman along with a couple of guys named Jack Eichel and Dylan Larkin. 

Since then, Heinen has continued to produce offense at the University of Denver and continued to create offense that leads to points. Now, the 21-year-old Heinen will be entering the professional arena for his first full season with the Bruins and he’ll be attempting to transition from the prospect phase to a regular gig in the NHL. That’s the challenge for a talented player who appears headed into a very good opportunity in NHL training camp.

 

What happened last year

Heinen was every bit as explosive in his second season for Denver as he was in his brilliant freshman campaign. He improved on his scoring with 20 goals and 48 points in 41 games. Then Heinen signed with the Bruins at the end of his sophomore season and played in a couple of pro games in the AHL with Providence as a tune-up for this first full pro campaign with the Bruins organization. Heinen finished with two assists and a plus-1 rating in four games with the P-Bruins and showed the coaches in Providence that he was ready to play and produce with more talented players. If Heinen surprised a little bit as a breakout freshman two years ago, his sophomore follow-up in Denver last season proved to everybody that he wasn’t a fluke.

 

Questions to be answered this season

The real question surrounding Heinen is about his ceiling as an NHL player and just how good he can become as a player with the skills and playmaking abilities to be a top-six forward. He’s proven he can dominate at the collegiate level while admittedly playing with some pretty good teammates at Denver. Heinen showed at the end of the season in Providence that the pro scene might not be much different for him. At this point, Heinen simply needs to go out and prove it against the best players in the world and show that his speed, playmaking and hockey sense are all elite in the AHL or NHL. Heinen’s biggest obstacle might be his size. He'll need to survive as a targeted skill player despite not being much more than the 6-feet, 180-pound range for a forward. It’s about average for a playmaking wing in the NHL, but the hits and attention will be at a much more intense level than anything he faced in the NCAA world.

 

What they're saying

“He’s the type of player that he can play with good players because he’s got high hockey IQ and he’s got really good skill. I think anywhere you put him, he’s smart enough to figure it out. I think you’ll notice him during training camp. It will definitely be up to him, but I think he’ll push some guys.” –Bruins assistant coach Jay Pandolfo on Heinen during last month’s development camp where Heinen soared as a performer.

 
Outlook

While Heinen still has some things he’ll need to prove before he’s a regular contributor for the Bruins, he comes into the Boston fold as an experienced player following two very good seasons at the college level. So, Heinen should be a little closer to plug-and-play for Claude Julien than some of the other young players that have come through the system in the past couple of years. Heinen will still need to flash in camp while being handed a big spot to perform with high-end veterans Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand potentially off playing in the World Cup of Hockey. Heinen also has a much greater chance of winning an NHL job sooner rather than later after the Bruins lost out on the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes and still have a top-six forward opening that somebody is going to fill. Heinen and Frank Vatrano are the two biggest favorites to fill that position, which became vacant when Loui Eriksson departed for Vancouver. Whichever winger loses that battle should be also be a strong candidate for a role on the third line, as well, barring any late veteran signings by the B’s. That set of circumstances leaves a very good situation for Heinen to potentially walk into with the Black and Gold, but he'll still have to show he’s fully capable of seizing his good fortune and good timing.