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Luongo establishes edge on Thomas

Sunday, 06.05.2011 / 3:41 PM / 2011 Stanley Cup Final - Canucks v Bruins

By Justin Goldman - NHL.com Correspondent

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Luongo establishes edge on Thomas
The goaltending matchup between Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo in the Stanley Cup Final will go down as one of the more historic duels in history.
It's only two games, but I can safely say that this series could go down as one of the more historic goaltending duels in Stanley Cup Final history. The paths both goalies traveled to get here, their elite skills and their opposing styles not only make this duel an instant classic, but a rare opportunity to watch two worlds collide.

One world is represented by the 5-foot-11 Tim Thomas, one of the most aggressive, mobile and active goalies in the League. Maybe close to 75 percent of his saves are made outside the blue paint.

The other world is Roberto Luongo, who stands 6-foot-3 and plays a more passive, conservative and positional butterfly style. It's safe to say that close to 75 percent of his saves are made inside the blue paint.

With this in mind, here's a stream of consciousness I had during Game 2, and why I think Luongo's play has a slight edge on Thomas' so far in the series. Be sure to watch for some of these dynamics during Game 3 on Monday night:

›› Watch both goalies' body language during the national anthems. Thomas, who is always so animated in the crease, hardly moves a muscle. On the other end, Luongo, who is much calmer and quieter, never stops rocking side-to-side. It's trivial, but quite interesting to see how both goalies have the complete opposite demeanor they display in games.

›› Boston had a more conscientious effort to fire pucks on Luongo from severe angles. This forced him to exert more energy over the course of the first period, despite facing 11 shots compared to 17 in Game 1. Expect the Bruins to try firing even more sharp-angled shots into Luongo's pads early in Game 3. By causing bad rebounds on big goalies, it forces them to move more and expel more energy than they want to.

›› Thomas' absorption rate was through the roof in Game 2. This ability to collapse and condense his upper body in order to "soak up" shots above the waist was very impressive. It was a visible sign that he was focused and relaxed for Game 2. It also proved just how well he mentally prepared from the end of Game 1 to the start of Saturday night's showdown. Aside from Alex Burrows' first goal, no pucks got through Thomas -- not even deflections or tipped shots.

›› Why Luongo is playing his best right now:
There are many reasons why Luongo's refined style of playing deeper in his crease has taken his game to another level. In my opinion, a major reason is because it has forced him to incorporate more reaction and reflex saves into his toolbox. To further explain myself, below is a three-step situational assessment of Luongo's improved technique.

1. Elite goaltending at the NHL level is more about decision-making than it is about technique. At this level, technique is mainly refined and buffed to perfection. But the individual choices each goalie makes in regards to their save selections, as well as when to make it and how they move afterwards, is what often separates winners from losers.

2. Because Luongo plays a patient butterfly style deeper in his crease, he's forced to make better decisions on when to employ a positional blocking save and when to make a reaction save. As a result, he has essentially gone from being a more "passive" goalie to having more "active" save selections in his game.

3. This reveals the fact that Luongo has the ability to balance his skill-set with an equal number of blocking and reacting skills. This balance, which could be considered like having an ambidextrous mind, is crucial to the read-and-react butterfly style that continues to be incorporated in today's successful and elite NHL goaltender. 

With that assessment in mind, I feel that Luongo has a slight edge on Thomas in regards to their decision-making in the Stanley Cup Final. Luongo has made the more conservative decisions so far, and that has proved to be more successful, especially in light of Thomas' decision in overtime of Game 2.

›› This series is a great opportunity to discuss the importance of size. Thomas makes up for his lack of size by challenging shooters and displaying an intense work ethic on second and third chances. It's an aggressive, high-energy style that proves small goalies can be successful if they know how to make themselves big in the net.

Luongo, who is not nearly as mobile, compensates for this by moving less. He stays close to his posts and utilizes his size as much as possible. This may lead you to believe bigger goalies have a clear advantage, but Mark Recchi's terrific tip on Zdeno Chara's shot from the point in Game 2 proved that size means nothing if the goalie is too deep.

›› The debate between opposing styles, and size, is an endless one. It simply comes down to decision-making on each and every scoring chance. To me, the decision Thomas made to lunge out at Burrows in overtime has established a razor-thin line between which goalie has been better so far in the Stanley Cup Final.

Ultimately, with both goalies making so many timely and efficient saves in Games 1 and 2, don't be surprised if one tiny miscalculation is the difference between winning and losing in Games 3 and 4.

Quote of the Day

It's pretty crazy, but believe me when I say we didn't draft these players with the mindset we had to because they had good hockey-playing dads. It just turned out that way. But we're certainly glad they're a part of our organization.

— Arizona Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt regarding the coincidence that six of the organization's top prospects are sons of former NHL players