VANCOUVER – In the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, nobody was in Tim Thomas' league.
"It has got to be up there with the best (performances)," Bruins President Cam Neely said of his goalie just minutes after Thomas led the Bruins to their first Cup in 39 years with a 4-0 victory against Vancouver in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena.
"He's elevated his game, especially in the postseason. He had a great year to begin with, but he's been spectacular (in the playoffs). The saves he was making, how calm he was -- he brought it to another level. It was really fun to watch him play."
Thomas made 37 saves Wednesday night to cap a goaltending performance for the ages.
Consider the numbers:
* Thomas, at 37 the oldest player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, set NHL records for most saves in one playoff year (798), most shots faced in one playoff year (849) and most saves in a Stanley Cup Final (238). He also became the first goalie to post a shutout on the road in Game 7 of the Final.
* In the Final, Thomas posted a 1.15 goals-against average and a .967 save percentage, the lowest total in each category in the modern era among goaltenders with at least five appearances.
"Tim Thomas in these playoffs just totally dominated," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "That's the sign of a great goaltender. He was on top of his game from start to finish, and especially in this final round. He was outstanding every game.
"I know everybody expected him to have an average game at some point. Never came. He was in the zone, focused, never let anything rattle him and never questioned his style of play. What's happened to him right now is so deserving and so proud of him."
Even Thomas expected to turn in a clunker at some point. In fact, he thought it was coming when he struggled to track the puck in the opening moments of Game 6, a game the Bruins eventually won 5-2 to force Wednesday's Game 7.
For a few fleeting moments, he was scared -- scared that his fairytale would come to a crashing. He was afraid that his journey, so long and winding, would end tantalizingly short of his final goal. He was concerned that his dream of being a Stanley Cup champion would prove even more elusive than even his quest to become a full-time NHL goalie, which did not happen until after he turned 30.
But he used his unquestioned mental toughness to get through that crisis of confidence.
"I was on my heels there for a second (in Game 6), and that was the first time that I'd gotten nervous during the Final," Thomas said. "So, yeah, I was scared. I won't lie. I had nerves yesterday and today. I faked it as well as I could, and I faked my way all the way to the Stanley Cup."
It appears he was as good a faker as a shot-blocker. Nobody knew that Thomas ever had a doubt.
"I can't imagine how anyone could play as well he did in this seven-game series," Neely said. "He was amazing, and he was so calm and cool and collected. It was just an amazing series."
Thomas allowed just 8 goals in the seven games and had the Canucks questioning themselves throughout the later part of the series. He allowed 3 goals in the final four games.
Additionally, he won three Game 7s in the 2011 playoffs. He posted shutouts in the final two, beating Vancouver 4-0 and Tampa Bay 1-0. In the first, he beat Montreal 4-3 in overtime as Boston rallied from an 0-2 deficit in that series -- the first time the Bruins had ever done so.
"His whole year has been like that," GM Peter Chiarelli said. "He's focused and the most square to the puck I've seen him in my time in Boston. It was an unbelievable performance he had in these playoffs, but his regular season was the same thing. He deserves the Conn Smythe. He had a super series."
The story Thomas authored this postseason is even better because he wasn't the starting goalie for Boston when the season opened. After Thomas struggled with inconsistency and a hip injury last season, youngster Tuukka Rask emerged as a legitimate No. 1. There were attempts by the Bruins to move Thomas in the summer, but they couldn't find any takers for a 36-year-old with three years left on his contract. The season started with Rask and Thomas basically engaged in an open competition, one Thomas eventually won by planting the seeds of what would become a historic regular season.
He won his first eight decisions, breaking a club record set by Tiny Thompson that had stood since 1938. He won his first nine road games; becoming the first NHL goaltender to do so since Chicago's Glenn Hall in 1965-66. He finished the season with a 35-11-9 record and .938 save percentage, eclipsing Dominik Hasek's .937 with Buffalo in 1998-99 as the best since the statistic was introduced in 1982-83. Thomas also led all goaltenders in goals-against average (2.00) and ranked second with nine shutouts.
But those accomplishments paled to what he did in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- especially the Final.
His reward for that brilliance was the Conn Smythe Trophy, which he admired repeatedly as he sat at the podium basking in the proudest moment of his hockey career.
"It's quite an honor," Thomas said, still in his skates and leg pads. "The Stanley Cup is the biggest one. That's the one that you're shooting for. The Conn Smythe is completely an honor.
"I just sat down here and started to read some of the names on it and it's an honor to be mentioned in the same maple leaf. Patrick (Roy), Ron Hextall, Ken Dryden -- those are the three goalies that I can see on this side facing me, it's amazing."
Almost as amazing as the performance Thomas turned in this postseason.