Any discussion of Conn Smythe contenders in this postseason has to include Boston goalie Tim Thomas. With nine wins and an impressive 2.39 goals-against average and .927 save percentage, Thomas has not just been a steady rock for the Bruins. He has come up with the occasional momentum-shifting save that completely changes the outcome of games and series.
Tuesday night Thomas made a handful of those saves, including a huge breakaway stop on Tampa Bay's Ryan Malone just over six minutes into the second period, in Boston's series-evening 6-5 Game 2 win over the Bolts.
"He had about four breakaways there in the second period that if he lets any of those go in it's a completely different game," Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick said during a visit to the NHL's Manhattan headquarters Wednesday. "He allowed his team to get the momentum in the second period and score the goals that they did."
Few have the up-close insight to Thomas' game that Quick does. They spent two weeks of quality time together in Vancouver, along with Buffalo's Ryan Miller, as members of the U.S. goaltending trio at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and while it was Miller who got the bulk of the playing time -- and the spotlight -- Quick was able to get a sense of what makes Thomas one of the top netminders in the League.
In a career that has taken Thomas from college to the minors to Scandinavia and then back again, the 37-year-old has built a lifetime of versatile experience that has helped him develop his game, something Quick was sure to take note of during their time together in Vancouver.
"The biggest thing you could pick up from Timmy, you don't even really need to be with him. Just watching him play, you see his compete level and you see how much he battles," Quick said. "He doesn't give up on any play, on any puck. It's something that you try to put into your game a little bit."
According to Quick, the type of single-minded focus Thomas exhibits is not just a good model for any goaltender, but one that should be a boon as Thomas goes through as close to a rough stretch as he has dealt with all postseason. The Bruins came away with the victory Tuesday night and did so in no small part due Thomas' play. But the fact remains that he has given up nine goals in the past two games, a shocking total considering Thomas surrendered as many as four goals in a game just once in the first two rounds of the postseason.
Those types of numbers stick out, although Quick notes as a goaltender that giving up more goals than usual one night "doesn't necessarily mean you're playing poorly." Indeed, Thomas still delivered the big stops needed to even the series as it shifts to Tampa Bay.
Nights where you wish the number on the score sheet was your GPA rather than your GAA have happened to goalies of every stripe at every level. It's the response from those nights that's important.
"Maybe it doesn't go according to plan, maybe you let up a few goals you should have had," Quick said. "I think the natural sense is you're a little frustrated, but you go home, you think about it and you move on. The biggest thing is you could play out of your mind and make 50 saves, have a shutout, or you could let up 7 goals on 20 shots. It doesn't matter because the next day it's a new day. You've got to win the next game."
In the case of Thomas, winning those next games cannot be understated. With the Bruins unable to hold serve in Games 1 and 2 in Boston, a series split leaves the very real possibility that the B's could be on the brink of elimination when they return to the Hub for Game 5. To advance to the Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins will have to win at least one game in Tampa Bay, and while Thomas' play has been far from poor, winning three more games against the Lightning while surrendering at least four goals each time is awfully unlikely.
Seeing Dwayne Roloson, a Conn Smythe contender in his own right, between the pipes at the other end of the ice could make that prospect nearly impossible for Thomas and Boston.
If watching how Thomas operated during their two weeks together is any indication to Quick, however, Thomas will stay the course as he tries to get more moments like his glove save on Malone and fewer crooked numbers on the scoreboard. And as far as Quick is concerned, it's the right decision.
"Just because it's the playoffs doesn't mean you have to do anything different," Quick said. "He's going to prepare for this game the way he prepared for the last game and the game before that. There's no difference. As soon as the game is over, you forget about it, you move on, you learn from any mistakes you did make.
"I'm sure he's looking forward to going down to Tampa and trying to win Game 3."
Reach David Kalan at firstname.lastname@example.org