- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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"He said, 'You look like you're 20 again,'" Thomas recalled to ESPN.com on Friday. "And I said, 'I feel like I'm 20 again.'"
And he looks like the Vezina Trophy-winning goalie of two seasons ago. Can you make a bigger statement than a 4-0-0 record with a .978 save percentage and 0.75 goals-against average?
Exactly why the man is back is a two-fold answer.
First, he's healthy. Thomas, 36, never once complained last season, but he played through a creaky hip that affected his style.
"Credit to him for sucking it up and playing through it, because he still had good numbers," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told me Friday. "But he basically couldn't extend the one way and had to go down on the one knee. Here you have a Vezina Trophy goalie who had to change his style because of an injury. He played through it without complaining. Now he's back to his former form."
He's back to his "former form" because of offseason hip surgery.
"My movement -- even for my expectations -- is incredible," Thomas said. "It's made the game much more enjoyable to play. Even I didn't know the difference [the hip surgery] would make."
Thomas wanted to make sure this story included the gratitude he had for Dr. Bryan Kelly, the New York City surgeon who performed the hip surgery (the same doc who fixed the hip of Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, it turns out).
"The difference between how I feel this year compared to last year ... I never felt like this last year," said Thomas. "There were times during the Vezina year where I felt like this. But as far as freedom of movement, I haven't felt like this in a long time."
But it's not just about the healthy hip. Before wrapping up a mid-September phone call with Chiarelli, the Bruins GM wanted me to know one more thing before we hung up.
"I'm telling you, I've never seen Tim Thomas motivated like this before," Chiarelli said at the time.
"Tim's about motivation, that's the name of his game," Chiarelli said Friday when reminded of his comment five weeks ago. "He had a really sharp camp right from the very beginning. When that happens, it usually carries over to the regular season and it certainly has."
The motivation was obvious, or was it?
"It's not a negative motivation," Thomas said. "It's a positive motivation. I took the summer to reset my mind. I certainly had to reset my body with the hip and everything, but I did the same thing with my mind. I spent a lot of time with my family, my kids, and got my head in the right place, got myself back grounded as well as I could. That certainly is playing into it so far, too. I'm happy."
And he digs his net-mate. Rask and Thomas have a solid relationship. It's worth noting since not all goalie tandems might have survived seeing a Vezina Trophy winner get unseated by a youngster the following year who led the NHL in GAA and save percentage) before coming back the next fall and taking the net early on. (I can think of two goalies in Montreal last season that couldn't find a way to get along despite both having obvious talent.)
"We've had a great relationship from the start," Thomas said of Rask.
Thomas said it began at a goalie camp in Calgary five years ago when the two of them were roommates. They had a quick reference point with Thomas having played pro hockey in Finland. The two have gotten along ever since.
"Even last year, I was very happy from my end that our relationship was never affected with all the stuff that was happening with me," said Thomas. "Tuukka was really helpful last year and I'm thankful for the way he treated me."
One could have understood if the two goalies, battling for the same net, could have used some alone time after last season, especially after the way it ended with the Bruins losing four straight to Philadelphia after being up 3-0 in the series.
"The day after the season ended last year, Tuukka was at my house hanging out with us by the swimming pool," Thomas said.
Just over a month later around the time of the NHL draft in Los Angeles, word leaked out that Thomas was on the trade block. The Bruins were hoping to free up cap space and the emergence of Rask made it possible for them to see if anyone was interested. There were no takers, not with Thomas having three more years left at a $5 million cap hit.
But it made for a stressful time.
"I'm glad that stuff settled down in August," Thomas said. "It's an issue we put behind us. But I'll be honest, it is difficult when you're going through something like that. I don't care how experienced you are or how long you've been around the game. You're job is to not let it affect you, but you're only human."
Thomas can rest easy now. He's got a no-movement clause, and I don't think the Cup-contending Bruins want to move him.
"I'm exactly where I want to be right now," said Thomas.
1dScott Burnside and Craig Custance