VANCOUVER – Tim Thomas wants to win as bad as anyone but he also wants to embrace the magic of a Stanley Cup final Game 7.
“Yep, the reality is, for me anyways, this may be the only Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals that I ever have in my career,” the jovial Boston Bruins goalie told a throng of reporters Tuesday.
“If we happen to make it again hopefully we can win before seven.”
Thomas, who has conceded only eight goals in six games against the Vancouver Canucks, hopes to lead his club through a record third Game 7 this post-season on Wednesday.
A season that began in Prague and will in Vancouver boils down to a single game for the resilient, hard working Bruins.
Thomas, the consensus front-runner for the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoff MVP, recalled how he fantasized as a kid, playing in the driveway of the family home in Flint, Mich.
“I was Stevie Yzerman, which doesn’t make sense for a goalie, but you’re saying to yourself, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, you’re not saying Game 6, you know?
“So this is really what every kid dreams about.”
Thomas might not be a kid anymore but coach Claude Julien likes how his goaltender is able to prepare and relax before the biggest game of his career.
“So far I think his play speaks for itself,” Julien said after the Bruins’ last practice of the season which consisted mainly of shooting drills to loosen up after a six-hour plane ride.
“I don’t think just before Game 7 he’s decided to change so that’s been his way of getting ready. He’s enjoying the moment. He’s relaxed and when the time for the game to happen comes, he’s focused and ready to go.”
Thomas, whose aggressive, shooter-challenging style has been dubbed the “battlefly,” has received little offensive support in Vancouver in a series where home ice has dominated.
The Bruins outscored the Canucks 17-3 in their three blowout wins in Boston but have revealed a Jekyll-and-Hyde split personality, suffering three one-goal defeats in Vancouver.
Canuck netminder Roberto Luongo blanked them 1-0 in both the opener and Game 5 while surrendering only two goals, both in the second period of Game 2.
“Every game has its own make-up,” defenceman Andrew Frerence, who lost to Tampa Bay in the 2004 Game 7 final with Calgary, said when asked about the goal drought in Vancouver.
“(The series) is not just one long game that has the same feel and the same performance even by individuals or the team itself.
“They’ve just been different games. It’s just the way it’s gone.”
Vancouver’s winning goals have come so suddenly that lesser teams would be demoralized.
Raffi Torres scored with 18.5 seconds left in Game 1 while Alex Burrows slid a wraparound attempt into an open net with only 11 seconds gone in overtime of Game 2.
Maxim Lapierre got the only goal on Friday by banking an end boards rebound in off Thomas who paid for his netminding style on all three winners.
“This team has bounced back all year long, whenever we had a setback or lost or been challenged or had our backs against the wall,” Thomas said.
“I can’t say exactly how we do it. It’s just a group effort and it seems like we come together and rally around each other.”
It’s the fourth do-or-die post-season game for the Bruins.
On Monday, Thomas’s 36 saves gave him 761 for the playoffs, matching the 1994 NHL record of Kirk McLean when he led Vancouver to the final against the New York Rangers.
Nathan Horton, out with a concussion suffered in a hit from the suspended Aaron Rome, won an overtime seventh game against Montreal and scored the only goal in Game 7 against Tampa Bay.
Vancouver is in this situation for the second time this post-season.
The Canucks prevailed 2-1 in their only previous test, a Game 7 overtime win in the opening round against Chicago with Burrows getting both goals.
“We know what we’re playing for and so do they,” forward Chris Kelly, a trade deadline acquisition from Ottawa who lost to Anaheim in the 2007 final, said of Wednesday’s season finale.
“There’s pressure everywhere you look. It depends on how you handle it.”
The Bruins, with five Stanley Cups to their name, are seeking their first since 1972, having lost their last five finals.
The Canucks, celebrating their 40th year as an NHL franchise, have not won in two previous tries. The only team to bring the Stanley Cup to this city was the 1915 Vancouver Millionaires.
While he won’t be playing against the team that had the NHL’s best record and led the league in scoring and preventing goals, Horton made the trip here with his teammates.
His sweater hangs in a Bruins locker room stall.
“It’s great,” said David Krejci, who leads the playoffs with 12 goals.”It’s good to have him here. He wants to be as close to it as possible. When we step on the ice (Wednesday) we want to do it for him.”
Julien said Horton wants to play so bad, he’s prepared to ignore the concussion symptoms but that would be a poor medical decision.
“Our players chose to honour him by making sure the trainers brought his equipment,” Julien said. “He’s part of our team and we want him there to the end.”
NOTES: Boston is 5-26 (19.2 per cent) on the power play in this series after going 5-67 or 7.5 per cent while eliminating Montreal, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay … the Bruins have limited Vancouver to a minuscule 2-for-31 success, or 6.5 per cent with the man advantage … Boston finished the playoffs 10-1 at home after losing their first two games of the opening round to Montreal.