Saturday, March 20, 2010
Thomas: I don't know where I'm at
By Joe McDonald ESPNBoston.com
WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Don't try to tell Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas that he's experienced ups and downs during his career.
The 35-year-old will be quick to point out all the accomplishments he's earned during his collegiate, international, minor league and NHL careers. Thomas will point out he's a former two-time All-American from the University of Vermont. He was an international all-star in Finland and Sweden, won the Finnish championship in 1998 and was the MVP of the Finnish League during the 2004-2005 season. In the minors, he was an all-star in the AHL with the Providence Bruins.
And he's the reigning Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL's top goaltender.
The man has had success.
"A lot of ups, really," Thomas said.
Reigning Vezina winner Tim Thomas has started only one of the Bruins' last five games, when he gave up three goals to the Devils and was pulled after the first period.
What about this season?
Thomas has a 15-17-8 record with a 2.57 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in 40 games this season. A season ago, he played a total of 54 games and posted a 36-11-7 record with a 2.10 GAA and a .933 save percentage en route to the Vezina.
"You can't compare seasons because each one is a little bit different," said Thomas.
Things appear to be working well for fellow Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, who has played 35 games this season, his first full year in the NHL, and is leading the league with a 2.12 GAA. The rookie's record is 16-10-4.
Starting with a matinee against the New York Rangers on Sunday at the Garden, the Bruins have 12 games remaining in the regular season and are fighting for a postseason berth. Currently Boston sits alone in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but the Rangers and Atlanta Thrashers are close behind.
It's the time of season when a hot goaltender can carry a team into the Stanley Cup playoffs and possibly sustain success for a long run. Bruins coach Claude Julien hasn't publicly said who the team's No. 1 goalie will be down the stretch, but Rask has been getting the majority of the playing time of late.
"I always say we're going to need both of them at some point, but right now I think Tuukka has really played well and he's been deserving of those starts," said Julien. "That doesn't take anything away from Timmy. You really have to have two goaltenders to step up for you at this stage of the year. We're in a position where we can't afford to have any bad nights."
With the regular season quickly coming to a close, it appears Julien is confident going with Rask although nothing has been said to either goaltender regarding playing time.
"No. Nothing," said Thomas, who has played in only seven of the last 19 games. "They probably talk to [the media] more than they talk to me.
"I don't decide who plays," he said. "I just show up to the rink and try to support whatever is happening that day."
Most will remember the goal Thomas allowed in overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals a year ago against the Carolina Hurricanes. After that game no one would place blame on Thomas, because it was his play that helped the team be as successful as it was in 2008-09.
Thomas has shown an ability to play well under pressure, and he would like to know if he'll get that chance again this season.
"I don't know. I've played so little over the past two months that I don't even know where I'm at," he said. "There's no use thinking about the stuff you can't control, so I'm not going to."
Thomas, a Davison, Mich., native, represented Team USA at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver last month and served as a backup for Ryan Miller. When Thomas returned from the Olympics, he felt energized and ready for the Bruins' stretch run.
When the NHL season resumed on March 2, Rask was given the start against the Montreal Canadiens and suffered the loss. Thomas started the next four games and posted a 2-1-1 record. Since then he's played only one other game and was removed after the first period when he allowed three goals against the New Jersey Devils on March 15.
"The Olympic break gave me a little bump," he said. "It was a lot of fun and I got to practice against some of the highest quality players in the world. So actually it gave me a bump, which you can see in the four games that I played in a row when I came back, and I'm just trying to carry over from that. I wasn't able to do that against New Jersey, obviously, but overall I think the Olympic bump is still there."
No matter who starts the remainder of the games for the Bruins, Thomas isn't about to take any frustrations out on Rask.
Joe McDonald and James Murphy have the Bruins covered in the ESPN Boston's Bruins blog.
"We get along really well," said Thomas. "I don't know if all goalies are good guys, or I just get lucky. He's played really well this year and certainly hasn't played like a rookie. He's played so well that I haven't really had to help him all that much, and he's a good guy to hang around with."
During Thomas' six years in the Bruins' organization, he's played with many goaltenders, most notably Manny Fernandez, Alex Auld, Hannu Toivonen and Andrew Raycroft.
Now Rask and Thomas are partners.
"I tried to make whoever I play with comfortable," said Thomas. "I've heard some stories from some old-time goalies that the game was a little bit different and stuff, but I've never looked at the other goalie on my team as the competition like the media likes to talk about. He's my teammate and I look at it more like a pitcher on a baseball team. It's going to take your entire pitching staff to win, and you need both goaltenders, especially in today's NHL."
Thomas is no fool and obviously knows the discrepancy in games played between him and Rask of late. At this point, everyone in the Bruins' locker room just wants to reach the postseason because that's when anything can happen.
"This season is not over yet," Thomas said. "You never know how it's going to work out."
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.