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Thomas puts name among best goalies in Finals history

by | CBSSports.com
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Family members and reporters tugged Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas all over the Rogers Arena ice surface, detours that come with winning not only the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 39 years but also the Conn Smythe Trophy.

His journey from a late-round pick out of the University of Vermont to stints in the lower minor leagues and Europe were well-chronicled when he won the 2009 Vezina Trophy, an award that goes to the league's top goaltender that he will likely win again this season. Recognition, a large contract and scrutiny followed as his production tailed off a season ago.

"When he came into training camp and I said, 'We don't give anything away here. The No. 1 spot is still there,'" Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Timmy went out there and earned it. At one point in the season, I told him, 'You're No. 1. Now carry us as far as you can.' "

Thomas, as it turns out, had some pretty steady shoulders as the Bruins became the first team in league history to win three Game 7s in a single postseason. He allowed only eight goals through seven games of the Stanley Cup Finals and had two shutouts, including the 4-0 clincher against the Canucks.

At age 37, he became the oldest recipient of NHL's version of the playoff MVP.

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His sometimes erratic style stood in contrast to Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, a prototypical butterfly goalie who has Thomas beat on height by a few inches. Give Thomas the edge, however, in the "clutch" category as, unlike Luongo, he rarely gave up a soft goal -- a huge undertaking since he faced the most shots and made the most saves of any goalie in NHL playoff history.

"We couldn't beat him," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. "That's what we have to live with. ... We couldn't beat Thomas. It had nothing to do with Luongo."

Thomas made 37 saves. Again, not all of them were routine. But even when he couldn't scramble into position to make a save, there was Boston captain Zdeno Chara -- who made a kick save on an Alex Burrows shot in the first period -- or another Bruins player to clean up.

"I think you've got to give credit where credit is due," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "Their goaltender was real tough to beat. The way they played in front of him was real tough to beat."

Also give credit to Thomas for staying above the fray and refusing to trade barbs with Luongo. Luongo told reporters he could have stopped the lone goal of Game 5 and a day later said he hadn't "heard any one nice thing" Thomas said about him.

"I've been pumping his tires ever since the series started," Luongo remarked, bringing the phrase into the hockey lexicon and putting some unneeded heat on himself at the same time.

Thomas continued to pile on the saves, which he admitted didn't come easy as a scrum developed in front of him early in Game 7.

"Vancouver put the pressure on and whizzed the puck around the crease four or five different times [and it] shot just wide," Thomas said. "I was on my heels there for a second and that was the first time that I'd gotten nervous during the Finals. So, yeah, I was scared. I won't lie. I had nerves yesterday and today. I faked it as well as I could and I faked my way all the way to the Stanley Cup."

Thomas finished the playoffs with a 16-9 record, 1.98 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. Not bad for a guy who didn't see a minute of playoff action in last year's postseason as he sat in favor of Tuukka Rask.

After he put the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe down, Thomas reflected on his turbulent offseason filled with trade rumors that ended here Wednesday night.

"A year and two weeks ago today, I was coming out of hip surgery," Thomas said. "It's been a long road, but it's been a phenomenal road."

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