No doubting Thomas: Bruins goalie was stellar

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo Sports

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – He did not seem crushed. He did not seem heartbroken.

Tim Thomas(notes) had fought so long and so hard to reach the Stanley Cup Final, and now that he was here, he had given the Boston Bruins a chance to steal Game 1 by matching the Vancouver CanucksRoberto Luongo(notes) save for save in a goaltending duel.

Then he allowed the winner to Raffi Torres(notes) with 18.5 seconds left and suffered a 1-0 loss, a game you would think the Bruins could not afford to waste for them to upset the winners of the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team.

And then he stood in the dressing room, his arms folded, a towel casually draped over his right shoulder, actually cracking a couple of jokes, actually laughing, actually smiling. He had been having fun. Hey, he still was.

“Well,” he said Wednesday night, “I don’t think you should have those emotional highs and lows during these kinds of series, because that’ll tire you out when it comes to seven games.”

Tim Thomas did not seem tired. He seemed ready to play at least another period, which is where everyone thought this one was headed thanks to him – and which is why he got here in the first place at age 37, after his well-chronicled journey through Europe and the minors to the NHL, from top form to hip surgery and back again.

Luongo was asked if he felt at any point he was in for a battle with Thomas, a fellow finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender.

“Probably from the drop of the puck in the first period,” Luongo said, smiling. “I mean, right away.”

Luongo wasn’t kidding. In the opening seconds, Thomas stoned Daniel Sedin(notes) with his right pad. Before the first minute was through, he stopped a deflection by Ryan Kesler(notes). After his 1-0 shutout of the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final, he was still on.

He had to be.

The Bruins struggled on the power play as they have throughout the playoffs, going 0-for-5 – even though they had a one-minute, 32-second two-man advantage, even though they parked 6-foot-9 defenseman Zdeno Chara(notes) in front of Luongo like an even bigger version of Luongo’s old nemesis, former Chicago Blackhawks behemoth Dustin Byfuglien(notes).

A defensive team facing an opponent with a lot of firepower, they got into a game that featured 70 shots – 36 by Boston, 34 by Vancouver. Despite his towering presence and long reach, Chara couldn’t take away enough space from the Sedin twins. Henrik kept passing and Daniel finished with eight shots.

“I think it was good to feel that he’s not a … He’s not a monster,” Henrik Sedin(notes) said. “He’s good, but you can work him. You can make plays against him. We didn’t shy away from the tough areas. We didn’t stop making plays. I think that was a great sign for us.”

But the game stayed scoreless. If Chara wasn’t a monster, Thomas was.

He was relaxed. At the end of the first period, his net came off its moorings as a scrum ensued along the end boards.

“I was laughing to myself, because all of a sudden my net’s not there for my usual routine,” Thomas said. “So I was like, ‘All right, I’ll just …’ ”

In the dressing room, Thomas mimicked how he had mimicked his usual routine on the ice, touched the back of each elbow on a phantom goal post.

“Oh, what the heck,” he said, smiling.

Why not?

“I was trying to enjoy the whole atmosphere, being in the opening game of the Stanley Cup Finals,” Thomas said. “I enjoyed myself.”

As the Bruins lost their legs and the Canucks took over in the third period, Thomas was at his best. He stopped a redirection by Alex Burrows. He came way out of his net and gloved a shot by Max Lapierre.

“There was a couple times tonight where I thought, ‘Oh, wow, we got a goal there,’ ” Henrik Sedin said. “But he’s right there. I don’t know how he does it. … He must be reading the play extremely well. He seems to always be in the right spot.”

About five minutes into the third, Thomas made the save of the night. Jannik Hansen(notes) accepted a pass and broke away behind the defense. He tried to beat Thomas between the pads, but Thomas closed them just in time. As a crowd knocked off the net behind him, Thomas kept the puck covered.

“Oh, the breakaway?” Thomas said, as if it were no big deal. “Oh, well. Watch the replay, and I had it under my glove. It never crossed the line. I was holding it out. I didn’t actually hear the whistle, so I was holding it hard just in case.”

He laughed.

“I didn’t know where the net was,” he said.

If you know where the puck is, you don’t need to know where the net is, right?

“When saves needed to be made, we were both making them,” said Luongo, who was sharp himself. “I had a feeling we were going to go to overtime and play for a little while here.”

Thomas got a little lucky, too. Alex Edler beat Thomas with a quick wrist shot with about 5:30 left in the third. Half of Rogers Arena thought he had scored, at least for a split-second, but he rang the shot off the left post. The sound was so loud you could hear it in the rafters at the other end of the arena.

But Thomas’ luck ran out in the end. Kesler chipped the puck past Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk(notes) and passed to Hansen in the slot. Thomas came out to challenge Hansen. He said he never saw Torres cutting to the net, and he had no chance.

At least three times afterward, Thomas was asked about the winning goal. He teased reporters for showing up late and repeating questions, but he smiled, laughed and repeated his answers. At least twice, he was asked if giving up such a late goal would be devastating.

“Not till you said something and put it in my head,” Thomas joked with one reporter.

Why would it be in his head? He's playing out of his mind.