By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins InsiderFollow @hackswithhaggs
LAS VEGAS It doesnt really matter if Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara both pick up hockey hardware again Wednesday night at the Palms Casino and Resort duringthe NHL Awards dog and pony show, as they did two years ago.
Thomas is considered something of a lock to beat out Nashville'sPekka Rinne and the fully pumpedRoberto Luongo for his second Vezina Trophy in the last three seasons. The voting took place at the end of the regular season -- before Thomas set a save-percentage record in the playoffs, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP and carried the Bruins to the Stanley Cup championship -- but he appeared to clinch the award with a strong, late-season kick.
The Vezina is obviously something Thomas would feel lucky to once again call his own, but that feeling of accomplishment is dwarfed by the Stanley Cup memories.
Its an honor to be nominated for the Vezina again, and its actually the first goal I set out there after having the hip surgery last summer, said Thomas. Then when I saw the team I had around me and the great supporting cast, I started to feel like we could win the Stanley Cup. We all know how that one ended.
Id still like to sit back and just think about all the things that went into us winning this championship, added Thomas, who still hasnt rested muchafter winging out to Vegas on Tuesday afternoon for the NHL Awards. Id like to sit back and think about the Michael Ryder save against Thomas Plekanic in the first round against Montreal, about Nathan Hortons overtime goal against the Canadiens, and that kind of stuff. It has set in that we won it, but it hasnt set in how special it was for us to win it."
The Vegas odds are on Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber to pick up his first Norris Trophy on Wednesday night over Chara and Detroit's Nik Lidstrom, but the 6-foot-9 Bruins captain has nothing to be ashamed of. He led the NHL playoff field with a plus-16 rating in his 24 playoff games, and formed a defensive stopper pairing with Dennis Seidenberg that opponents had no answers for through 25 postseason contests.
The 33-year-oldalso led the NHL with a plus-33 during the regular season while leading the Bruins with eight power-play goals, and played the kind of consistent defense teams began to dread as the season wore on. Nobody topped the plus-49 Chara posted in 105 games during the regular season and playoffs, and he truly was the best defensive defenseman of the bunch when the votes are cast. If Norris were given primarily to the biggest defensive beast in today's NHL, Chara would be a prohibitive favorite.
Its an honor to be nominated for the Norris Trophy and I owe so much to my teammates and coaching staff, said Chara. Its a great moment in my career to be standing here again nominated. Its overwhelming. To be here a few days after winning a Stanley Cup is a very special feeling.
Regardless of the awards each player receives, it will be a much different trip this time around. Thomas, Chara and coach Claude Julien all had an empty feeling as they came home with individual hardware after the 2008-09 campaign. They didn't have the Stanley Cup.
Back then, there were still questions about the Bruins way, their roster composition and the strategy GM Peter Chiarelli was using to build a roster full of players built around Chara and Thomas. Most felt that a Cup-worthy team had to have some kind of dynamic duo like CrosbyMalkin or ToewsKane to carry the club through four rounds of playoffs, but Chiarelli always felt that defense won championships at every level.
Thats why he built around world-class defenders and goalies, and thats why he bought into a defensively responsible system preached by a coach that had as much to prove as the players. "Thats part of the plan and weve kind of worked from the defensiveend out," said Chiarelli. "Wewent in to this year trying to score more goals, but it was always maintaining the defensive side of things. Ive been watching playoffbasketball games and the teams that are winning are the best defensive teams. Football games is the same thing."I know sometimes we get knocked for that, but we have two of the best defensive players in the league, Chara and Thomas. So why not build around it? That was one of the differences between us and Tampa. They had some of the best offensive players in the league, and thats not knocking our offensive players. They simply did. So you have totry and build a team around what you have."Throw all of that into a pot with the good fortune of remaining healthy through most of the season and a few fortunate plays like Ryder making a ball hockey save, and Chara blocking a shot with his foot while he was facing the net and thats how a Stanley Cup season can be made.
The real challenge forboth Thomas and Charawill be repeating -- as in repeating as Stanley Cup champs and once taking the trip to Vegas for a hardware collection at this time next year after another nice, long postseason run.