Time to stop doubting Thomas?

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Time to stop doubting Thomas?

By Michael Felger

When Canadiens forward Brian Gionta broke down the right wing five minutes into the second overtime on Saturday night at the Garden, the stakes couldn't have been much higher -- either for the Bruins or the man Gionta would ultimately try to beat for the game-winner.

The Bruins' latest blood-duel with Montreal was knotted at two games apiece and the next goal would not only shift the balance of the series, but help determine the future of many of the players on the B's bench, as well as those behind it.

Face it. Jobs and reputations are on the line for the Bruins this postseason. For Claude Julien, another early exit will certainly mean an exit from Boston. For the players, the questions are more subtle, but important nonetheless.

Who, for example, is Tim Thomas? We know he's been one of the best regular-season goalies in the NHL for about four years. He's about to win his second Vezina Trophy and just set a record for regular-season save percentage.

Yet his postseason career has been undistinguished. Through three playoff series -- spanning one round in 2008, which he lost, and two in 2009, which he split -- Thomas' play has been good but rarely great. Yes, he hasn't cost the Bruins many games. But he hasn't won them many, either. He's been . . . fine. And that's about it. His up-and-down play over the first four games against Montreal only encapsulated his postseason career.

So as Gionta bore down the right slot, the question hung in the air: Had he ever, truly stolen a playoff game for the Bruins? If he had, it was hard to recall.

Then Travis Moen's pass found Gionta's stick and Thomas finally, unequivocally, answered.

Thomas' sprawling save on the Gionta one-timer was perhaps his finest moment as a member of the Boston Bruins, capping what had to be the most important and clutch performance of his NHL career (44 saves). Above all, it helped give the Bruins a 3-2 series lead over the Canadiens and put them one step closer to the second round, where jobs and reputations will be on the line all over again.

And that's what makes the real takeaway from Thomas' brilliant performance on Saturday the future, not the past.

What if that game is the one that "breaks the seal" for Thomas? What if it becomes a regular occurrence and not just an aberration?

In other words, what if Thomas becomes that guy?

Then you'd have to look at the Bruins differently, wouldn't you?

So that's the question I'm asking heading into Tuesday's Game 6 in Montreal.

What's it going to be, Tim: More games like that? Or one-and-done?

E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to Felger on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Felger: Bruins have no choice but to overpay for defenseman

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Felger: Bruins have no choice but to overpay for defenseman

Yes, four first-round picks for Jacob Trouba is crazy.

Yes, two firsts and David Pastrnak for Kevin Shattenkirk is stupid.

And, of course, Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson is ridiculous. (Remember Bruins fans: As bad as it's been, it could be worse. Peter Chiarelli could still be here.)

No one is disputing that the asking price for good, young defensemen across the NHL has gone haywire. If you're acquiring one of those players, you are likely going to lose the deal, and that's no way to run a franchise.

But here's the question for the Bruins: What's the alternative? Do the Bruins want to try and win in the Patrice Bergeron window or not?

That's what it comes down to for the B's. Bergeron will turn 31 in three weeks, and while he may have plenty of seasons left, his time as one of the best two-way players in the NHL is certainly more finite. He will likely be out of that elite status by the time anyone currently in the B's system develops into the type of No. 1 defenseman the team so desperately needs -- if there's even anyone who fits that description in the first place.

In other words, if the B's want a top-pairing defenseman anytime soon, they're going to have to pay for it. Or overpay for it. Draft picks. Players. Offer sheets. Whatever. Something unappealing is going to have to go out the door.

If there's another way, I'd like to know what it is. There's virtually nothing to choose from in the unrestricted pool. And everyone on the current depth chart is either too old, too young or too crappy.

So four first-rounders and a $7 million annual cap hit for Trouba? That's an impossible price to wrap your head around, until you consider the alternatives.

Ideally, the B's are using that Jets offer sheet threat as a leverage play, an attempt to create options in hopes the Blues lower their ask on Shattenkirk, or the Ducks lower their price on Cam Fowler. Maybe the B's have been trying to work a trade with the Jets for Trouba himself and are just bringing a hammer to the table. Lower your demands or we'll offer sheet him. Perhaps that offer sheet isn't even a realistic consideration and is nothing more than noise.

I have no idea. The only thing I know is that the B's still stink on D.

The players they have drafted the last few years may not be any good, and if they are it will be a half-decade before they're capable of playing the kind of playoff minutes necessary to contend for a Cup. The Bruins keep saying they want to contend now, which is pretty much impossible given the personnel on the blue line.

So what do they want? To wait for the kids and blow the rest of Bergeron's prime? Or give up an exorbitant price in a deal they'll very likely lose?

I'd probably lean towards the later, but there's really no right answer. It's called Bruins.

Email Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz daily from 2-6 p.m. The simulcast runs on CSN.

Kalman: Bruins have to wait for secondary market of defensemen

Kalman: Bruins have to wait for secondary market of defensemen

Matt Kalman provides his take on what the Boston Bruins should do in terms of potentially landing a top defenseman this offseason.