Tim Thomas is bringing the Stanley Cup back to his blue-collar hometown of Flint, Mich. And he’ll have the Conn Smythe Trophy in tow, too.
The 37-year-old became the oldest player to be named playoff MVP after allowing just eight goals over his final eight games, seven of which came in the pressure-packed Stanley Cup final against the Vancouver Canucks.
Thomas capped that run with another masterful performance, making 37 saves Wednesday for his fourth shutout of the playoffs as the Bruins were crowned champions after winning Game 7 on the road 4-0 at Rogers Arena.
“It’s quite an honour,” Thomas said as he sat with the trophy in his post-game press conference. “I just sat down here and started to read some of the names on it. It’s an honour to be mentioned (along) Patrick Roy, Ron Hextall, Ken Dryden, those are the three goalies I can see just on this side facing me. It’s amazing.”
With his aggressive, unorthodox style, Thomas helped shut down Vancouver’s potent offence and made high-scoring twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin a non-factor in the final. He had a 1.15 goals-against average, a .967 save percentage and two shutouts over the final seven games.
“It still hasn’t kicked in, if I’m completely honest,” Thomas said. “I can’t believe it’s over. We’ve had our battle metre up so high for so long, it feels like we’re moving onto the next series or something.”
Thomas set records for most saves in a Stanley Cup final (238) and in a single post-season (798).
“Tim Thomas, in these playoffs, just totally dominated,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “He was on top of his game from start to finish, especially in this final round.
“I know everyone expected him to have an average game at some point. Never came. He was in the zone, he was focused, never let anything rattle him or even question his style of play. And what’s happening to him right now is so deserving.”
Thomas travelled a long road to the NHL that took him through Birmingham, Helsinki, Hamilton and a number of other places—making him arguably the least likely man to capture the Conn Smythe Trophy. Consider that he made just four NHL appearances before his 30th birthday and they were sandwiched between separate stints in Finland.
“Anybody that knows the story of Tim Thomas, he’s taken a real bumpy road to get to the NHL,” Julien said. “He’s had so many obstacles in front of him that he’s overcome, it makes him a battler, it makes him the perfect goaltender for our organization because that’s what we are, we’re a blue-collar team that goes out and works hard and earns every inch of the ice that you can get.”
Thomas put together one of the best years in recent memory by a goaltender. He set a new NHL record by finishing the regular season with a .938 save percentage—edging the .937 by Buffalo’s Dominik Hasek in 1998-99—and continued that dominance right through the playoffs.
The only other Bruins player to previously claim the award was Bobby Orr in 1970 and 1972.
The goaltender’s aggressive style was the subject of much debate during the post-season. Thomas surrendered five goals to Tampa Bay twice during the Eastern Conference final and was caught out of position on a couple key goals during the Cup final.
However, more often than not, he was the biggest difference-maker in black and gold.
“The way he battles, he never quits on any pucks, even to the point where he can let a bad goal in every once in a while or a couple in a game,” said Julien. “(But) you know that when the game is on the line he’s going to be standing on his head again because he battles through it.”
Thomas is just the second American-born player to be named playoff MVP after New York Rangers defenceman Brian Leetch in 1994.
Signs of the sensational season to come could be seen all the way back in October, when Thomas won his first six starts without allowing more than one goal in a game. As the Stanley Cup went along, talk of the Conn Smythe possibility grew louder and louder, but he did his best to block it out.
“I’ve been so focused on playing the playoffs that I’m a little bit removed from what’s happening inside the city right now,” said Thomas. “I felt that it was the best way to approach these playoffs and the final, the best way to keep my feet on the ground is to kind of isolate myself.
“I’ve stayed away from reading the media and watching the media and stuff like that.”
During the brief downtime between games, he lounged around with his wife and three kids.
“My little boy is trying to get me to play hockey,” Thomas said after Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final. “I’m like, ‘I’m a little bit too tired, wait till this summer.”‘
Summer hasn’t started just yet. Thomas will be in Las Vegas next week looking for one more piece of hardware as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.