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Stanley Cup or not, Tim Thomas is producing a special 2010-11 season and playoffs

Jun 13, 2011, 9:00 AM EDT

Tim Thomas AP

As I pointed out in late May, Tim Thomas is putting together a truly rare run of an excellence in his combined 2010-11 regular season and playoffs.

If you look at his regular season or postseason results separately, they don’t seem that unusual. Goalies such as Ryan Miller have had outstanding regular season outputs while everyone from Antti Niemi to Jean-Sebastien Giguere managed to turn some heads with red-hot playoff runs.

There haven’t been many netminders who can produce a superlative set of performances in both facets of an NHL year, though. (The last goalie to win the Stanley Cup and Vezina Trophy in the same season was Martin Brodeur in 2002-03, for example.) Few recent Vezina Trophy winners managed to keep their great performances going during the up-and-down grind that is the NHL postseason, but Thomas has been the exception.

Thomas matches stunning season with great playoffs

After sitting out the Boston Bruins’ 2010 playoff campaign after being usurped by strong backup Tuukka Rask, Thomas is having the run of a lifetime. He broke Dominik Hasek’s single-season save percentage during the regular season with a .938 mark and hasn’t missed a beat in the playoffs, conjuring up a nearly identical (and stunning) .937 rate. Save percentage is considered the most reliable way to distinguish a goalie’s worth outside of his team’s quality play, but he GAA was also outstanding in both the regular season (2.00) and playoffs (2.07).

Those stats are tantalizing for hockey nerds such as myself to chew on, but Thomas also happens to ply his trade in the most entertaining way imaginable. While a great save can be jaw-dropping even when a tactician such as Roberto Luongo manages the feat, Thomas flails his body around in a way that can only be compared to oddballs such as Dominik Hasek. In a way, Thomas’ accomplishments are just as impressive as the work produced by “The Dominator” because he plays in a more wide-open era of hockey.

An unusual mindset to match an unusual style

When discussing the differences between Luongo and Thomas to my buddy, the simplest explanation of why Thomas is a rare goalie spilled out. While Luongo can occasionally – not always, but every now and then – linger upon a goal allowed and come unhinged, Thomas seems to get angry. During one especially impressive win against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Thomas allowed a Simon Gagne one-timer goal on the first shot he saw. The Bolts didn’t score on him again in that game.

Perhaps the most appealing thing about Thomas is his ever-present smile (or conversely, his sometimes-feral rage). He seems to be loose even in the tightest of situations, something Joe Haggerty captured in this story.

Thomas was asked how he manages to focus with “millions and millions” of hockey fans watching his every move, and he quickly replied that those millions are the first thing he eliminates every time he straps on the equipment. There wasn’t any pressure on Thomas as a young kid learning how to play the goalie position, and the wide smile on his face in the third period of Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning told you he was feeling no pressure whatsoever with his team’s fate on the line.

“There are only 12 players out on the ice at any given time, max, and the ice surface is the same size,” said Thomas, who leads all NHL playoff goalies with the 2.07 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. “There is only one puck in play at all times and I think you just focus on the nuances of the game.

Ranking among the all-time greats

Thomas’ run stands shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best playoff goalie performances in recent (and in some cases, overall) NHL history. Corey Masisak compares his work to the best of Patrick Roy and Hasek.

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.

It’s not as if Thomas hasn’t been busy, either. He has a strong chance of breaking Kirk McLean’s all-time record for saves in a single postseason; McLean made 761 while Thomas currently has 725. The Bruins have allowed 33.7 shots per game while the Canucks are averaging 31.9 in the playoffs, so Boston might need to reach their first-ever Game 7 in a Stanley Cup finals series to help Thomas get the 37 saves required to break that record.

Yet even if Thomas falls short of a Stanley Cup and loses tonight, he still put together one of the best runs a goalie has experienced in a long, long time.

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