BOSTON -- A year ago, Tim Thomas had just spent an entire postseason watching from the Boston bench and his future with the Bruins was considered murky at best.
Much has changed since then, even if the big change -- a much-speculated trade -- never happened. Thomas has authored one of the best seasons by a goaltender in NHL history, and his star turn in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final has been an emphatic exclamation point.
Thomas set the League record for save percentage during the regular season. For that, he is likely to win the Vezina Trophy for the second time. He's followed that up by leading the postseason in goals-against average and save percentage en route to becoming the leading candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
"In '86, Patrick Roy was pretty darn good and you think about that -- a lot of what Tim has done and especially in this series has been Roy-esque," said Pierre McGuire, analyst for NBC and TSN. "I think you think back to Dominik Hasek in '99 with what he did for Buffalo. He was on some kind of roll. This has been an amazing run, an unbelievable run for Tim."
Vancouver has scored 6 goals in five games in this series, and much of that is because of Thomas. He's allowed 1 goal or fewer in four of the five games, and yet the Bruins are down 3-2 because of their struggles scoring at Rogers Arena.
Thomas stopped 1,699 of 1,811 shots he faced during the regular season for a .9381 save percentage, which topped Hasek's mark of .9366 set in the 1998-99 season for the best since the League began keeping track of shot totals.
While Roy was spectacular during the 1986 Stanley Cup Playoffs, leading the Montreal Canadiens to the Cup, he played only 47 games during the regular season with an .875 save percentage. The 21-year-old Roy became a star during the postseason, posting a sparkling .923 save percentage and a 1.92 goals against average.
Considering the era and how hockey changed during Roy's career, those numbers are comparable or even better than his postseason run in 2001 when he put up a .934 save percentage and a 1.70 GAA to lead the Colorado Avalanche to the Cup.
Hasek's 1998-99 season may set the standard among modern goaltenders. Not only did he capture the Vezina that season, he helped the Buffalo Sabres to within two victories of the Cup. He had a .939 save percentage during the postseason and a 1.77 GAA.
Thomas' play in the Cup Final has been even better than his record-breaking performance during the regular season. His 1.21 GAA and .964 save percentage could end up among the best in a Cup Final.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Thomas has the best GAA since Hasek posted a 1.18 for the Detroit Red Wings in a five-game victory against Carolina in 2002 and the best save percentage since Roy's .973 for Colorado in a four-game sweep of Florida in 1996.
The way Thomas has kept his team in contention for a championship, despite its woes on the power play (the Bruins became the first team to win a best-of-seven series without scoring a power-play goal) and despite missing key offensive players (Bergeron in the Eastern Conference Finals and Nathan Horton in the Cup Final) has made him the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy should the Bruins win Games 6 and 7 -- and maybe even if they don't.
"It is spectacular. I was just talking to my colleagues from Sweden about what happens if Vancouver wins 1-0 tomorrow?" former NHL defenseman and current Swedish TV analyst Calle Johansson said Sunday. "Tim Thomas has to be the MVP of this tournament. There's nobody you can give it to (for) Vancouver, I don't think. Even if Luongo has another shutout, he gave up 12 goals in two games, so I don't think he's a contestant. I think Thomas has been by far the most valuable player of this playoffs."
Added McGuire: "[Jean-Sebastien] Giguere (won the Conn Smythe in a losing effort) in '03 and Timmy Thomas has been every bit as important to this team and influencing this series like Giguere was in '03. Very much so -- I'd say that is more than fair."
Johansson knows a little bit about being on a team with a hot goaltender. He played for Washington when the Capitals rode Olie Kolzig to a surprise appearance in the 1998 Cup Final.
Kolzig was dominant in that postseason, producing a .941 save percentage to help the fifth-seeded Capitals out of the Eastern Conference before being defeated by the Red Wings in the Final.
Thomas' save percentage for the entire 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs is .937, which would be fifth-best among goalies that reached the Cup Final behind Giguere in 2003 (.945), Kolzig in 1998, Hasek in 1999 and Arturs Irbe in 2002 (.938).
"You win games you are not supposed to win," Johansson said. "I particularly remember one game in each series. We played Boston here and we won in overtime and we had no business being in that game. You just had a feeling that when Olie played he was on top of his game and he just stopped everything."
Thomas stands out among his peers because of his unique approach to the position and his path to stardom. While most goaltenders try to stick to the butterfly style as much as possible, Thomas often looks more like Hasek or other goalies from a previous era with the way he moves around trying to make saves.
He is aggressive, often coming out of the crease to make saves. He is unconventional, most notably opting to check Henrik Sedin in Game 3 after he caught the puck out of the air instead of waiting and trying to make a save. His full-swing whack on the back of Alex Burrows’ leg was positively Ron Hextall-esque.
"To me, Timmy is fun to watch," Chicago goaltender and current NHL Network analyst Marty Turco said. "He feels the game better than people give him credit for and he certainly has a better foundation to his game than anybody gives him credit for. He wouldn't be this good if he didn't have some style and substance, and his diving saves, stick saves are all part of it because he has that in his bag. He can be more aggressive, come out and do those things."
If the Bruins are going to rally from a 3-2 series deficit to best the Vancouver Canucks, Thomas is likely to be a big reason why. He has produced one of the great individual seasons at his position the League has ever seen.
"I think it would be hard to find a goalie like Timmy that has been so dominant but also with the character that he has and the mental strength that he has shown," Boston center Patrice Bergeron said. "He's a special, special person and a special player."