PHILADELPHIA – Tim Thomas was invisible in last year’s playoffs, never called on to stop a Flyers’ comeback that knocked Boston out of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Only an injury could keep Thomas out of Boston’s net this post-season.
Thomas rebounded from off-season hip surgery and won 35 games, had nine shutouts and is one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, given to the NHL’s top goalie every year.
He’s played every minute of Boston’s post-season run—an envious stat for a Flyers team that has used net roulette throughout the playoffs.
Game 2 is Monday in Philadelphia.
Thomas had 31 saves in Boston’s 7-3 Game 1 win over Philadelphia in this year’s East semis and gives the Bruins the durability and stability needed to make a deep post-season run.
“He was very comfortable from the start,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “But that is just Tim getting better and better as these playoffs move forward.”
The Bruins are counting on his improvement to advance to the conference finals a year after they blew a 3-0 lead against the Flyers. Thomas, a 2010 U.S. Olympian, was a bystander when the Bruins suffered their meltdown.
It was a big bump in the career path for one of the top goalies in the NHL.
Thomas won the Vezina two years ago and signed a five-year contract extension in spring 2009. But he slumped to a 17-18-8 record with a 2.56 goals-against average and .915 save percentage last season and lost his job to Tuukka Rask.
Thomas played in just three of Boston’s final 12 regular-season games and didn’t make a playoff appearance.
Rask was in net for all seven games of last year’s series with the Flyers, when Boston became the third NHL to blow a 3-0 best-of-seven series lead and fail to advance.
Thomas intends to finish the job this season.
“We’re pretty fortunate to have Timmy, and even Tuukka there,” Bruins centre Brad Marchand said Sunday. “We have a great duo. But at playoff time, it’s so tough because a goalie can get hot at any time.”
Thomas’ defencemen were stout in front of him in Game 1, and Thomas wasn’t forced into any spectacular saves. Boston’s 5-1 lead was cut to 5-3 before the Bruins scored two late goals to turn it into a romp.
“You usually do not have those type of leads in the playoffs so it was nice, but we didn’t have that lead all game,” Thomas said. “It was still a playoff game, and Philly is known for their comebacks, even within games, so you have to be on your toes.”
Thomas allowed five goals in the first two games of the first-round series against Montreal, both losses. When he settled down, so did the Bruins, who eliminated Montreal in seven games.
“What you saw early in the first round was not indicative, like the rest of our team, (of us) when we made uncharacteristic mistakes,” Julien said.
Julien never wavered on his No. 1 starter.
The Flyers have been stymied in finding the answer to the most valuable position on the ice.
Brian Boucher allowed five goals and some soft rebounds before he was replaced in Game 1. The Flyers made their fourth goalie change in eight playoff games, a staggering number for a team that spent a chunk of the season leading the Eastern Conference.
Boucher has been the goat as a starter and a star reliever—he won two games off the bench versus the Sabres.
He’s wants that Game 2 start.
“I will prepare the same way I do every day and we will see what happens,” Boucher said Sunday. “I think there are only so many times you can make a change before you run out of nine lives.”
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette declined to reveal his Game 2 starter.
Boucher said Laviolette has reasons other than ineffectiveness for benching the goalie.
“It’s always a wakeup call for the team,” Boucher said. “You always seem to get a bit of a boost after there’s a goalie change. I think that’s why coaches are so apt to do that. That seems to be one of the last things they cando, as opposed to yelling at the guys or calling a timeout.”
Laviolette would love to have a No. 1 guy and stick with him. Consider, Phillies starting pitchers have three complete games, one less than the Flyers’ goalies have in the post-season. The Flyers also failed to earn a shutout this season.
Sergei Bobrovsky was no better in limited action, allowing two goals on 10 shots.
Bobrovsky won the No. 1 spot to open the post-season after a 28-win rookie season. He lost Game 1 to Buffalo 1-0, then was lifted for Boucher in Game 2 after he allowed three goals on seven shots. That was the last anyone saw of the goalie known as Bob the remainder of the series.
Because of Philadelphia’s goalie woes, the Flyers are in a familiar spot playing from behind in a series.
Last year’s comeback against the Bruins put them in the record book. They trailed Chicago in the Stanley Cup finals 2-0 before losing in six games. In the first round, Buffalo led 1-0 and 3-2, forcing the Flyers to win the final two games.
“I don’t know what it is,” centre Danny Briere said. “The past couple of years it seems we need adversity to start playing better. This needs to be an eye-opener because we’ll be done in a hurry if we keep playing that way.”