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Timmy for Vezina (and Hart)

by John Bishop / Boston Bruins
BOSTON -- As the Bruins prepare for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, they do so in the knowledge that they can entrust any game to the top goalie in the National Hockey League -- Tim Thomas.

Let's repeat that: Tim Thomas is the best goalie in the NHL.

And not only is the B's beloved "Timmy" in line for another Vezina Trophy, "The Tank" is now being bandied about by fans, media and teammates alike for the Hart Trophy (a.k.a. the NHL's MVP).

With the Bruins 3-0 win over Chicago on Tuesday, Thomas earned his ninth shutout (second in the league), lowered his league-leading goals-against average to 1.96, raised his NHL-best save percentage to .940 and now owns a 33-10-8 record (as of Wednesday, seventh in the NHL and second among the top ten goalies in winning percentage with .623).

Boston head coach Claude Julien said that Thomas, who had hit a stretch where his world-beating pace had slowed -- slightly -- bristled at a mention of Thomas' bounce back.

"Well, bouncing back is one thing," said Julien.
"You know it’s amazing, he’s been great for us all year and then the minute he only becomes good, everybody talks about him being in a slump. I don’t think he’s ever been bad for us this year. He’s been good sometimes, but he’s been great most of the time." - Claude Julien

"But giving him a little bit of rest...he fine tuned himself again," added Julien. "After a little bit of rest he’s back to where he was most of the year.

"So that was our plan and that was part of it, and we needed Tuukka [Rask] to step up and help us out and he’s done that (with a 2.69 GAA and a .918 SV%).

"So, I’m pretty happy with our goaltending," he said.  

Anyone who has watched the Bruins this year understands the importance of the Boston backstops as the Black & Gold stand second among the NHL's 30 teams in GAA (2.25), just percentage points behind Vancouver (2.19).

"I didn’t feel that bad during that stretch," said Thomas to a question similar to the one his head coach fielded during the postgame press conference.

"I mean, there were shots that were hitting off of people that were going wide and going in. But having said that I do feel good right now, but I didn’t feel off that bad before.

"It’s a fine line for a goalie."

These days, with Thomas stopping 94-percent of the shots he sees, there's a VERY fine line skated by teams who face the Bruins and look to take points away from Boston.

"Well, it just gives us confidence," said Boston alternate captain Patrice Bergeron on Tuesday. "We have a breakdown, we know that he’s there for us.

Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas (30) waves to fans after the Bruins' 3-0 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in an NHL hockey game in Boston on Tuesday, March 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
"So it’s huge for confidence like that. But like I said all year, that’s how we felt with both goalies."

Bergeron then echoed his coach when he was asked about Thomas' remarkable run.

"Well it’s not surprising," he said. "It’s just Timmy being himself.

"It’s been huge for us and giving us a chance to win, making some huge saves when we need it and it’s been like that all year."

Bergeron backed up those opinions when he went on 98.5 The Sports Hub's Gresh and Zo program on Wednesday and said "it's not even a race for the Vezina" and added that Thomas "deserves" the Hart Trophy.

For his part, Thomas isn't focused on individual accolades -- including his latest shutout, the 26th of his career, that tied Tim with B's legend Gerry Cheevers for fourth place all-time for Boston.

"Shutouts are honestly, really overrated," said Thomas. "It’s not that big of a deal. It’s more about the win.

"Having said that, shutouts are nice; I’m obviously pulling for them towards the end of the game if I can. But I mean, I think guys should be focused on winning, and making sure that we win rather than the shutout."

But given his recent run in which Thomas has won four straight starts with two shutouts and a 0.50 GAA, Thomas reflected on the blankings of Montreal and Chicago.

"It took me forever to get to eight, which was my twenty-fifth, for a while," added Thomas. "I never would have guessed that I would’ve gotten two in three games.

"It’s just the way it worked out."

And Thomas isn't going to overthink the stretch run.

Asked how things would work out with the B's trying to get some time for Tuukka Rask, Thomas said, "I’m kind of letting them manage. And I’m just playing when I’m told to play, and just kind of approaching it day-by-day like that.

"So, I guess I’ll think of the overall plan, how it went, after the year’s over. I don’t want to spend the energy to think about it now. I’d rather pass that responsibility on and leave my energy to keep doing what I do."

But don't expect Thomas to lose his trademark intensity, either.

"This was a good challenge for us," said Thomas of the B's win over the defending Stanley Cup champs. "Chicago is a good team.

"I know they’re battling for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. But that’s a good thing because you know they’re going to bring their A-game, because those points mean a lot to them.

"It was a big test, and we responded very well," he said.

But big picture, it was just another game.

"I mean, I’m just focusing on each game-to-game, and even during the game just trying to play the same way for the whole 60 minutes no matter what the situation," said Thomas. "We’re pretty good about not thinking about that kind of stuff lately.

"It’s scary sometimes," said Thomas of his ability to maintain an even keel. "I’m in one of those good places and now the challenge is to keep it."
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