Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thomas heroics the stuff of pipe dreams

By Bob Ryan
Boston Globe Columnist
June 16, 2011

VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 15: Tim Thomas(notes) #30 of the Boston Bruins is awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy after defeating the Vancouver Canucks in Game Seven of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena on June 15, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4 to 0. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — He was never the Golden Boy.

You kidding? He didn’t start a game in the NHL until he was 28 and he didn’t become anyone’s regular goalie until he was 31. Until very recently, he would have been recognized on the street in Finland more readily than in downtown Boston.

Go back further. His parents hocked their wedding rings at one point to raise money in support of young Timmy’s career.

“Doesn’t mean anything to me,’’ said his mother, Kathy Thomas, who was on hand for this happy occasion. “You do what you can for your son.’’

The Thomases even moved from Flint, Mich., to Detroit to aid his quest, with Tim selling apples door-to-door to make some money.

So now here’s the question: Will we spawn a new worldwide generation of flopping, diving, sprawling, swatting, generally pro-active goaltenders now that 37-year-old Tim Thomas has carried the Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship?

Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps Tim Thomas will remain sui generis. That would probably be a better scenario. After what he’s done all season, and especially in the past two months, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas deserves to be placed in a separate category.

“This is literally a dream come true, just like it is for everyone on this team,’’ he said. “At 37, this might be my only shot to win it.’’

The Vancouver Canucks have seen enough of him, that’s for sure. With last night’s 4-0 victory, Thomas wound up surrendering eight goals in seven games to the most potent offensive team in the league. This is a team that had three goals during one prolonged power play against San Jose.

Of course, he had help. The Bruins’ team defense during this series was beyond superb. But the anchor was No. 30. No one will deny that.

No, the man of most every match during the Bruins’ postseason was Tim Thomas, who gave the coach and his teammates what everyone wants in this game: peace of mind.

“He is so deserving of everything they’re giving him,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “Every night, all season long, he always gave us a chance.’’

Has any Stanley Cup-winning goaltender ever had a weirder path to a moment like this? There were the post-collegiate years (and plenty of them) wandering through the North American minor leagues, not to mention the four separate stops in Finland and some time in Sweden before he finally plopped himself between the pipes in an NHL game.

He then plays well enough to win a Vezina Trophy and sign a $30 million contract, which becomes something of an issue when subpar performance triggered by a hip injury relegates him to cheerleading status in the 2010 playoffs. He watched young Tuukka Rask play all 13 games while constantly reading and hearing that, as a backup goalie, he was undoubtedly the most overpaid player in the league.

Offseason hip surgery took care of the injury issue, and when the 2010-11 season arrived, Tim Thomas was ready to do his job. He was good enough during the regular season to merit nomination as a Vezina Trophy candidate again. Who could have imagined his stellar regular-season play was a mere appetizer before the main course that was the Stanley Cup playoffs?

The stats for the 25 games it took the Bruins to win the Cup — three sevens and a sweep, which is pretty interesting in itself — include 17 games with 30 or more saves, three with 40-plus, and a mind-boggling 52-save effort in a 3-2 overtime win in Game 2 of the Philadelphia sweep.

But it was not just sheer accumulation of saves that mattered. There are saves and there are SAVES! And Tim Thomas had plenty of SAVES!

There are many to discuss, of course, but the one that will probably lead all the Tim Thomas highlight packages was the astonishing stick save he made on Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie, a save so inexplicably athletic and spectacular it wasn’t until we all saw the replay that we knew the puck hadn’t simply hit the post.

There was endless discussion about his methodology, and it must be said that on occasion his abnormal aggressiveness creates tantalizingly open nets. Someone came up with the term “Battlefly’’ to describe his crowd-pleasing, unorthodox, no-style style.

All of which called to mind the many times Harry Sinden used to say that he didn’t give a hoot about how his goalies stopped the puck, as long as they stopped the puck. Harry wasn’t into style points.

Still isn’t.

“I’ve loved him since we got him,’’ beamed Sinden.

(What? You didn’t think Harry was going to miss this?)

“This was the culmination for him. I don’t care what people think about his style. His style is right; theirs is wrong.’’

What constituted a clunker game for Thomas in these playoffs might have merited a raise for someone else.

“I’ve got to tell you,’’ said Bruins president Cam Neely, who has seen a goalie or two in his time. “He’s got to be up there with the best I’ve ever seen. He elevated his game, especially in the Stanley Cup. He was so calm and composed. He took it to another level, and it was really fun to watch him play.’’

In the Now It Can Be Told Department, Thomas confessed he might not always have been as calm as he seemed.

“I won’t lie,’’ he said. “Yesterday and today, I faked it as well as I could, and I faked it all the way to the Stanley Cup.’’

Wait till the Canucks hear that.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on He can be reached at

© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.

Raise the Cup

Bruins shut the door in Game 7 to take first title in 39 years

By Dan Shaughnessy
Boston Globe Columnist
June 16, 2011

VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 15: Zdeno Chara(notes) #33 of the Boston Bruins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Vancouver Canucks in Game Seven of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena on June 15, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4 to 0. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — They won it for every New England mom and dad who ever woke up to drive kids to the rink at 6 a.m., and drank hot chocolate while they waited in the cold.

They won it for the Revere girls with the big hair and O’Reilly sweaters; for the shot-and-beer guys who pour every dollar of expendable income into the hockey budget.

They won it to avenge losing Bobby Orr to Chicago, too many men on the ice in Montreal, free agents never signed, trades that went bad, unspeakable injuries, and Game 7 disappointments.

They won it for you.

The Boston Bruins last night won the Stanley Cup, shocking the Vancouver Canucks, 4-0, capping an epic seven-game series and bringing the holy grail to the Hub of Hockey for the first time since 1972. The goals were scored by Patrice Bergeron and Brad (Little Ball Of Hate) Marchand, two apiece.

The non-goals were stopped by playoff MVP Tim Thomas.

At this hour, Everyman Thomas is Tom Brady, Bill Russell, and Curt Schilling. And the Bruins are Stanley Cup champs. They outscored the favored Canucks by a whopping 23-8 over seven games.

Thomas addressed Cup-starved Boston fans, saying, “You’ve been waiting for it a long time, but you got it. You wanted it, you got it. We’re bringing it home.’’

“It’s surreal,’’ said Marchand. “I don’t know if it will ever kick in.’’

Marchand is a rookie. He is from Hammond Plains, Nova Scotia. He is 23 years old. How could he possibly know what this moment is like for longtime Bruins fans? How could any of the champion Bruins know?

“It’s unreal,’’ said club president Cam Neely, a man who skated and suffered through some of the tough years. “You dream about a moment like this and you don’t know how you’re gonna feel. I’m so proud of the whole group.’’

“I guess there is a Santa Claus,’’ said Jeremy Jacobs, who has owned the Bruins since 1975 and earned a reputation as the Montgomery Burns of Boston sports.

No more. It’s all good now. The kind folks inside Rogers Arena let the Bruins hang around the ice with the Cup for almost an hour after the game and played “Dirty Water’’ and “Tessie’’ over the public address system as Boston players embraced their families and friends and posed with the Cup.

Too bad they didn’t play “We Are The Champions.’’

Today would be a good day to call your out-of-town friends and tell them you live in a city that just won its seventh championship in 11 years. You live in the only hamlet that’s won the Grand Slam of North American trophies within seven years.

It is the High Renaissance of New England sports. Our Duck Boat tires are balding. The vaunted Patriots just became the Boston franchise with the longest championship drought. The Patriots, the NFL’s team of the decade, haven’t won a Super Bowl since way back in 2005.

The humanity!

Let the record show that the Bruins’ long-awaited return to the circle of champions came on a perfect June evening, 2,500 miles across the continent from Causeway Street. A season that started in Prague ended on Game No. 107, as the Bruins became the first team in NHL history to win three Game 7s in a single spring. It was the Bruins’ first Game 7 road win in their 87-year history. And it was stunning.

A seven-game series that had finger-biting, taunting, trash talk, and embellishment ended with Bruin dominance. After losing three one-goal games at Rogers Arena, the Bruins took the fight out of the locals in the finale. Vancouver’s only fight was demonstrated by nitwits who rioted after the game — fires raged and tear gas was released, giving the city another black eye.

The Bruins were inspired by the presence of Nathan Horton, who scored the game-winner in both of Boston’s first two Game 7s, then was felled by Aaron Rome’s late hit in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. Horton splashed some Boston water on the Vancouver ice for good luck long before the start of last night’s game.

“This is the chance of a lifetime to be with my teammates,’’ he said afterward. “I couldn’t miss this.’’

The Canucks were strong at the jump, but with 5 1/2 minutes left in the first period, the Bruins lost a faceoff in the Vancouver zone, but Marchand got the puck. The Ball Of Hate controlled it nicely, and centered the puck to Bergeron, who one-timed it past Roberto Luongo. Good omen. The team that scored first won every game of the Final.

Late in the second, Zdeno Chara made a crucial save. That’s right. Save. After giving up the puck right in front of the Bruins’ net, he assumed the goalie duties when Thomas was faked out of position. Looking like a treetop Gump Worsley, Chara stopped Alex Burrows’s shot with his left knee. Nice save for the big guy.

With 7:47 left in the second, Marchand made it 2-0 on a wraparound at the left post. Once again, tire-pumpin’ Luongo was not agile enough to stop the puck.

Then the Bruins struck with a shorthanded goal — the clincher. With Chara off for interference (first penalty of the night), Bergeron found himself on a shorthanded partial breakaway. As he was dragged down by Christian Ehrhoff (chasing with Alex Edler), Bergeron somehow steered the puck past the shell-shocked Luongo. The goal was reviewed and when it was announced that the goal would count, it sounded like 18,860 were taking their college boards. The Bruins had three goals on only 13 shots. Both Sedins were on the ice for all three scores. At that juncture, Luongo had whiffed on six of the last 21 shots on net.

Back in Boston, the countdown was underway. Marchand potted an empty-netter with 2:44 left. Claude Julien made sure Mark Recchi was on the ice at the end.

To the finish, Thomas remained in full Battlefly, wielding his Reebok war club like Russell Crowe in “Gladiator.’’ Kevin Bieksa fired the puck the length of the ice as the whistle sounded. Perfect. Thomas had the puck and the Bruins had the Cup.

As for the other goalie? Here’s the new joke in British Columbia?

Q: What time is it in Vancouver?

A: It’s 20 past Luongo.

Actually, it was party time for the Boston contingent on the Rogers Arena ice.

At 10:52 (Boston time), the Cup appeared and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman beckoned Chara. The captain skated toward the commissioner, hoisted the chalice, skated in a circle, then presented it to 43-year-old Recchi.

Recchi had just played his last game. The veteran forward took his turn, then passed the Cup to Bergeron, who relayed it to Thomas. On and on it went. They’re probably still passing it to one another as you read this.

The Bruins were scheduled to fly home late last night (Stanley Cup belted into seat 4-C) and arrive at Logan early this morning. It should be a great moment at customs when agents ask Neely, Julien, and Chara if they have anything to declare.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.

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