Tim Thomas settles in for Game 7
Calm and focused, B's veteran goalie knows what it will take to win do-or-die game
BOSTON -- To get a real sense of how Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas is handling the pressure of yet another Game 7, all one had to do was watch him after practice on Tuesday: He appeared relaxed and ready for the Washington Capitals.
As the Bruins prepare to host the Capitals on Wednesday night at TD Garden for a chance to advance past the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, Thomas was holding court with a large contingent of local, national and international media.
In the middle of answering a barrage of questions, Bruins backup goalie Anton Khudobin, a native of Kazakhstan, yelled out in English with a Russian accent: "Timmy, answer something for me?"
Without getting flustered by the interruption, similar to the way he plays, Thomas smiled and made a joke.
"You guys hear Peggy over there? Peggy Jr.," Thomas said with a laugh.
Thomas, of course, was referring to the popular Discover Card commercial where he's stuck in a Boston cab and is speaking on the phone with "Peggy" from the fictional company USA Prime Credit.
Without slouching down and trying to hide like he does in the commercial, Thomas spent nearly 10 minutes discussing his history in Game 7 situations. The 38-year-old netminder has won some. He's also lost some.
In 2008, Thomas and the Bruins lost to the Canadiens in Game 7 in Montreal. In 2009, after sweeping the Habs in the first round, Boston and Thomas, who won his first Vezina Trophy that season, lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime 3-2 in Game 7 at the Garden.
Ironically, current teammate Dennis Seidenberg was playing for the Hurricanes and assisted on Scott Walker's game-winning goal at 18:46 of OT. As the puck crossed the goal line, the red light hadn't even gone on yet and Thomas was already sprinting for the locker room.
After that loss, Thomas stuck that memory in his goaltender's brain and decided he would not let it happen again.
"I think being on the bad side allows you to know that you can fail and life will go on and your life won't be ruined," Thomas said after practice on Tuesday. "Until you've had that experience it's real tough to handle. I actually think that gave me an advantage going into the Game 7s last year because of that experience. But having won gives you confidence that you can get it done again."
In 2010, fellow netminder Tuukka Rask was the starter in the playoffs, but last season after Thomas completed his second Vezina-winning campaign, he was given the nod in the postseason. En route to Boston's first Stanley Cup title in 36 years, Thomas helped the Bruins become the first team in NHL history to win three Game 7s in the playoffs. He posted shutouts in two of those three Game 7s and stopped 95 of 98 shots (.969 save percentage).
Thomas set NHL playoff records in 2011 for most shots and saves in one postseason, recording 798 saves on 849 shots (.939 save percentage).
For his historic efforts, Thomas won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and became only the second goalie in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe and Vezina in the same season, joining Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame goalie Bernie Parent.
Through it all, Thomas is ready for another chance to win a Game 7 on Wednesday. It will be the fifth time he has been in this situation, and his teammates feel confident with Thomas between the pipes.
"It shouldn't matter because it's a Game 7," Bruins center David Krejci said. "He's been great all year and he had some strong games in the playoffs. We need him to come out strong tomorrow just like we need all the other guys, too."
After Game 5 of this series last Saturday at the Garden, Thomas publicly took the blame for the last two goals he allowed in Boston's 4-3 loss. The teams had a quick turnaround and were back in Washington for Game 6 on Sunday.
Bruins coach Claude Julien knew his goaltender was ready to respond.
"I thought he played a huge game," Julien said after a 4-3 overtime win in Game 6. "I know he's upset after [Game 5], and just by his reaction I had no doubt in my mind he was going to come up big today because that's the character this individual has. When he's not happy with himself, you can be sure he'll bounce back. He was up early this morning, having breakfast, and you could see he was prepared for this game. He did a great job for us tonight."
Thomas was asked about Julien's comments after Tuesday's practice.
"I wish I could be perfect and never let in a goal," Thomas said. "It irks me to let in any goals, but I have to put it behind me. Being in this situation, like we were Saturday night, to put out what I would consider a really good effort for the majority of the game, then to get scored on twice in the third period and lose the game is what I was disappointed in. I wanted to do anything I could to help us win the next night because it's a tough circumstance going on the road, in their building for Game 6, with two games in 48 hours."
After winning the crucial Game 6 to force a decisive Game 7, the Bruins held an efficient and jovial practice on Tuesday at Ristuccia Arena.
"Having won Game 6, and having a little bit of momentum on your side, the practice is important to come out and be crisp and don't take a step backwards," Thomas said. "You need to be ready to raise your game to the next level that it's going to take."
Each game in this series has been decided by one goal. Thomas is well aware of that stat. He has another shot to add to his already impressive résumé and he plans on using all his experience -- both good and bad -- in Game 7 situations to help the Bruins advance and continue the team's defense of its Cup title.
"You have to go out and put in the work," Thomas said. "If you want to be the one that comes out on top in Game 7, you have to be the one who is willing to pay the price and be the one that is prepared to give everything you have from what's inside you."
Thomas' mindset is a simple one: "Hold them off the board as much as possible and trust in my teammates to get the rest done."