Unpredictability of Tim Thomas changed everything for Boston
Flyers struggled to pre-scout and break down Boston’s “street hockey” goalie
With Boston up 3-0 on Philadelphia for a second straight second round of the playoffs, there was bound to be a lot of talk about the Flyers historic comeback from the same deficit last season. There are differences between the two years, however, and none was bigger than who is guarding the Bruins’ net.
Tim Thomas was on the bench with a hip that would eventually require surgery last season, unable to do anything but watch as Tuukka Rask and the Bruins coughed up both the 3-0 series lead and a 3-0 lead in Game 7.
“A 3-0 lead in the series is the same,” Thomas told reporters. “Everything else is different.”
Including the results, as Thomas and the Bruins completed the sweep of the Flyers on Friday night. Nine of Boston’s 20 players weren’t part of last season’s choke, but the biggest difference was Thomas. He gave up just seven goals in the series, improving his postseason save percentage to .937, back close to his Vezina Trophy finalist form of the regular season after a slow, sometimes-sloppy start to the playoffs against Montreal.
“You hear all the talk about what happened last year and you have to ignore it to be able to do what we just did,” Thomas said. “I’m glad it’s done with because the longer that series went, the more talk about last year.”
For Thomas, last year included a hip that required surgery and limited his mobility (it was so bad he could only get up on one leg). Now that its fixed and his movement is back, the Flyers admittedly had a hard time pre-scouting him.
Philadelphia video coach Adam Patterson told NHL.com he pulled more than 100 video clips of the 112 goals Thomas gave up this season, and even then he and goalie coach Jeff Reese had trouble finding a weakness, in large part because Thomas isn’t a typical butterfly clone, part of a Dominic Hasek-like trend developing in these playoffs.
“You look at a guy like Ryan Miller and you can tell he’s as technically as sound a goalie as you’re going to get,” Patterson told NHL.com “He’s a big guy, square to the shooter. Then you watch a guy like Thomas and there isn’t one particular shot or flaw that you can pinpoint. The goals are all different on this guy. He’s a battler, he never quits. It’s hard to give the players particular reads.
“With Miller, we had some things where we were telling the guys where to shoot and things to do – saying he’s aggressive and to look back door when he’s out of his net. But with Thomas, he’s a little bit of that, but like Jeff said, he’s predictable yet unpredictable. He does stuff that a lot of goalies don’t do. He just tries to stop the puck and he’ll do it any way possible. He’ll get down and won’t care what it is, whether it goes off his head or whatever.”
Patterson told players almost need a “street hockey mentality” around Thomas’ crease, which is ironic since Thomas has used the same “street hockey” analogy to describe his own approach to competing for pucks in the past.
For all the talk of his unorthodox saves, and how that makes it harder to scout and break down his game, Thomas has improved technically over the years, something he’s stressed in regular conversations with InGoal. And for all the times he talked technique, however, he sees too much reliance on it among young kids:
“Some of the kids having trouble because they rely on technique too much could probably use some street hockey,” Thomas told InGoal late in the regular season. “You need to learn the technique and you need to practice the technique, but when it comes game time you have to do whatever it takes.
“Even in practice. You do the goalie drills in practice and work on the technique and then in the game you will use them when necessary. But then the rest of practice you don’t want to just get scored on while practicing technique all the time. You need to find a way to stop it, and play a little street hockey.
“Technique can help you move more efficiently, but once you are in position if the shot is going somewhere away from your body you have the have the ability to move your legs or move your arms. I’ve seen a lot of kids that have great technique but they turn into robots and it’s like their arms are glued to their sides and they don’t have the ability to throw a shoulder, or whatever it is. You have to be able to move out of that technique mode when need be.”