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Coming into the 2010-2011 Boston Bruins season, goaltender Tim Thomas was a certifiable afterthought. With 23-year-old Finnish backstop Tuukka Rask coming off a stellar campaign, most figured Thomas, the 2009 Vezina Trophy winner as the league’s top goalie, would be relegated to a backup role at best. Hell, many so-called fans would have been content to ship the 36-year-old success story out for a case of Molson and a box set of Jersey Shore DVDs. After running his record to 6-0-0 with a 0.50 GAA and .984 save percentage after Saturday night’s 4-0 shutout of Ottawa? Nary a peep from those same haters.
The run he’s on is absolutely historic — his 0.50 GAA is the lowest of any netminder through six games of any goaltender since the expansion era. That is mindblowing. In terms of Bruins history, Thomas is tied with Tiny Thompson, a guy who was manning the nets (albeit at the youth level) when the RMS Titanic was navigating the Atlantic (yes, that overrated flick was on TV tonight) for the best start in club history, and it’s a safe bet to assume he’ll hold that honor all to himself after his next start, regardless of opponent. When Thomas gets hot, you can look league-wide and not find a more dominant netminder. Bruins coach Claude Julien knows this as well as anyone, and he’ll ride his backstop until he slows down. Tuukka Rask fanboys may not like it, but this is absolutely the right decision from a team standpoint. Thomas’ hot start is a win-win for both the team and player alike.
What makes Thomas’ start all the more impressive? How most were ready to ship him out for 20 cents on the dollar last season and this past summer. Rask’s emergence certainly made his presence a luxury and not a requirement, but many wanted Thomas gone, viewing his $5 million per year cap hit as an albatross, forgetting Rask was re-upped last year at a measly $1.25 million per year. I’m no math major, but Boston’s 2 netminders make just $500,000 more than Cristobal Huet was earning last year all by himself. Having two #1 netminders for the price of 1.5 is exceptional cap management by GM Peter Chiarelli, and shipping out Thomas and handing the reins over to Rask full-time would have been quite the risky maneuver. Instead, the Bruins have the league’s best netminding duo at a bargain. Once again, win-win.
Perhaps most incredibly, Thomas has no one to blame but himself for why he isn’t sporting Bobby Orr’s retired #4 in the shutout column — his giveaway to Jason Chimera of the Washington Capitals on October 21st cost him a shutout in that game too, a tilt the Bruins won convincingly, 4-1. The boneheaded play was vintage Thomas, handling the puck like a hand grenade before fumbling it onto Chimera’s stick where it was re-directed directly into Boston’s vacant net.
Thing is, this is precisely what makes Thomas who he is. His off-the-wall, acrobatic goaltending goes hand in hand with his frantic style of play. Perhaps a more sure-handed goalie would have coolly and calmly played that puck up ice and secured his shutout, no questions asked. Chances are, that same goaltender probably wouldn’t ever go on a run like Thomas is on right now, either.
That’s the essence of Tim Thomas. You take the good with the bad, and right now there’s a whole lot of good to go around.