VANCOUVER – When Tim Thomas walked into Rogers Arena for the first time since the 2011 Stanley Cup final, the veteran goalie wasn’t thinking about the Boston Bruins’ Game 7 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
What crossed his mind was how much pain he was in that night.
“I had some skates that playoffs that were just killing my feet so bad,” Thomas said with a smile after practice Monday. “You just won the Stanley Cup. You should be able to want to celebrate, but all I could think of was ‘I’ve got to get these skates off.’
“I couldn’t because there were so many people. There wasn’t even a place to sit down.”
After deciding to take a year off from the game last season Thomas is back in the NHL with the Florida Panthers, who visit the Canucks on Tuesday night.
And although Thomas is with a new team, his exchanges with Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo through the media during the 2011 final have not been forgotten.
Luongo said after Vancouver’s 1-0 victory in Game 5 that the winning goal would have been an “easy save” for him to make because of his style, before adding the following day: “I have been pumping his tires ever since the series started. I haven’t heard one nice thing he had to say about me.”
Thomas, who would go on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, then shot back prior to Game 6: “I guess I didn’t realize it was my job to pump his tires … I guess I have to apologize for that.”
Neither goalie wanted to talk much about that period in their careers on Monday, with Thomas saying that he never held any animosity towards Luongo.
“I’m happy to see that he’s still doing well,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about him. I was thinking about doing my job.”
Added Luongo: “That’s an old story. And old, old story.”
Both men have made headlines for different reasons since, with Thomas refusing a White House invitation with his Boston teammates after the Cup victory for political reasons, while Luongo was involved in a protracted goaltending controversy in Vancouver that finally led to the trade of Cory Schneider this summer.
Thomas, who said he’s refreshed after his year off, said there were a number of factors that led to him stepping away from the NHL last season.
“It was a like a two-year long season after we won the Cup,” said the 39-year-old. “I had a long road to make it to the NHL—a lot of long seasons, six world championships, a lot of extra camps and all that. I think that’s part of it. It just added up.
“My kids were getting older. You’re around as a hockey player, but in that year off I got to really become their dad. Now we have a totally different relationship, even though I’m playing.”
He agreed it was a risk to take a year off, but that it was something he had to do.
“I might not have had the drive to play to the level I wanted to,” said Thomas. “It probably would have been a bad situation if I continued to play.”
Thomas, who won the 200th game of his career on Saturday night in Florida’s 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, is part of a Panthers team that has already fired a head coach and endured a nine-game losing streak.
So far this season, Thomas is 4-6-0 with a 2.87 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage
“He’s obviously a big factor with us in our success,” said Panthers interim head coach Peter Horachek, who replaced the fired Kevin Dineen on Nov. 8. “I like his demeanour. He’s always got a smile on his face and he likes to play and compete.
“It’s really good for the team right now to have that back there. We know when things break down that he can make that big save.”
The Panthers (5-12-4) will meet a Canucks (11-8-3) team that has struggled of late, having dropped four in a row while scoring just four goals in the process.
“We can’t get down on ourselves. We’re creating chances and getting the shots,” said Canucks forward Daniel Sedin. “We’ve got to keep going. The goals will come. We have to realize that.”
Vancouver head coach John Tortorella said despite the losses, including back-to-back home defeats, it’s important that the Canucks continue to stay the course.
“We have to still play the proper way,” he said. “When you’re not scoring goals you can’t start cheating, you can’t start getting on the wrong side of the puck to try to push yourself to score that goal because then it ends up in the back of (your) net.”
“We know where we’re at. We just need to continue to play the proper way.”
Follow Joshua Clipperton on Twitter at @josh_clipperton