VANCOUVER – When asked about their two-game meltdown in the Stanley Cup final, the Vancouver Canucks, almost to a man, said their troubles would end if they could somehow find a way to solve Tim Thomas’s mastery over them. They should be relieved to know, then, that they’re not the only ones who are worried about the Bruins goaltender.
“I’m going to worry about Tim Thomas, too,” said, well, Tim Thomas. “And not about anything else.”
In case you haven’t noticed, Thomas goes into Game 5 of the final with a .936 save percentage, which is just slightly below the .938 he compiled in the regular season when he posted the best recorded save percentage in NHL history. In Games 3 and 4, he has stopped 78 of 79 shots and appears to be on his way to making a mockery of the matchup between himself and fellow Vezina Trophy finalist Roberto Luongo. But even Thomas has had his off moments in these playoffs and acknowledges he very nearly blew a gasket after being victimized for the game-winner just 11 seconds into overtime in Game 2.
He obviously managed to put it behind him, but it wasn’t as easy as some might have thought.
“It took a couple of minutes in here,” said Thomas while standing in the Bruins visiting dressing room at Rogers Arena. “That stone pillar there looked pretty appealing for a punch for a little while. It doesn’t happen instantaneously. It took me a few minutes of having to calm myself down and reset.”
If Thomas continues to play the way he did in Games 3 and 4, it could be impossible for the Canucks to get back into the series and for anyone to not hand him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the post-season. Thomas has been the main factor to be sure, but it’s no coincidence that the Bruins held the Sedin twins to just six shots in the two games in Boston when they were able to get Patrice Bergeron up front and Zdeno Chara and Denis Seidenberg on defense out on the ice against the Sedin twins and Burrows. They obviously will not have that luxury in Game 5 in what has become a homer’s series.
Chara raised his play dramatically after struggling in the first two games in Vancouver. The Bruins will need the Chara of Games 3 and 4, not of 1 and 2, and will have to find a way to get him out on the ice against Vancouver’s top offensive players without having the benefit of last change.
“We’re not the type of team that really worries about (last change),” Bergeron said. “We’re pretty good at making some smart changes. That being said, we don’t have it right now and we need to make the most of it and make sure we’re ready and we do the job.”
So watch for the Bruins, when they want to make a change, to get pucks very deep with soft dumps into Canucks end of the ice. That will presumably give the Bruins enough time to get the players they need on the ice before the Canucks can get too far up the ice. Although the Bruins will not obsess about getting the matchups they want, it will almost certainly be a priority for them.
“It’s not a concern (not getting the matchups they want),” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We’ve had to do that all year long when we’ve had to play teams that have those kinds of players, we need the matchups, we work it out. Definitely it’s easier at home when you have that last change, you know who they’re putting out there. We manage to work it out on the road. It’s not always the perfect fit, but eventually we do get what we want.”
The Bruins, who were struggling mightily on the power play coming into the series, have also managed to shut down the Canucks with the extra man. In fact, the Bruins have outscored their opponents 3-1 in power play goals in the series.
“A lot of people don’t seem to think that we’re as highly talented as the other team,” Julien said, “and so be it.”
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.