How things changed for Thomas (and why he didn’t) in Final
Tim Thomas seemed genuinely amused with the suggestions from the media at the Stanley Cup final. But no thanks, Thomas said, he wasn’t going to change how he played the position.
“I have a pretty good idea of how to play goalie,” the Bruins’ soon to be two-time Vezina Trophy winner said with a wry smile. “I’m not going to be taking suggestions or advice at this time. I’m just going to keep playing the way I have.”
Thomas made that much clear after Game 2 ended with him out of the crease after aggressively challenging – and ultimately lunging out of position – at Alex Burrows’ partial break just 11 seconds into overtime that he wouldn’t change his approach. Asked if he felt vindicated after making 40 saves in an 8-1 Game 3 win the next night, Thomas again said no.
“Because I was happy with at least the base of how I was playing in the first two games,” he said. “I mean, I had a 1.5 goals-against in regulation in the first two games, so … I’d rather listen to my goalie coach, Bob Essensa, than anything else.”
Thomas insisted that approach did not change as the game got lopsided – “Actually, the big challenge in situations like that is not to play any different. It’s just to try to play the exact same way that you’d been playing” – even though he appeared to settle down as his team settled into a 4-0 lead at the end of the second period. But there was ample proof he hadn’t changed in the first frame, like this early, aggressive save on Mason Raymond coming off the wing, when he came out almost as far as he did on Burrows:
Or when he came sliding well out of his crease to turn away this point shot from Alex Edler:
In both cases Thomas is exposed to second chance opportunities laterally because of his aggressive positioning on the initial save. It happens again on a long shot off the wing from Victor Oreskovich with 1:50 left in the frame, with his rebound going behind the net and out the far side while Thomas was still stuck outside the near post. But in all three cases, he got help from a Bruins defense that was much tighter than in the first two games – the same help he probably expected when he challenged Jannik Hansen on a 2-on-1 in the dying seconds of Game 1, and probably, to a lesser extent, was anticipating when Burrows walked around the net in Game 2.
Of course, those are just a couple of snippets among 60 minutes of hockey. Taken as a whole, it’s fair to argue Thomas was quieter with his movements in Game 3 at home, maybe even less aggressive overall than in the first two games. The point, though, is he didn’t make any conscious adjustments to his approach as a result of the first two games. In his own words, if Thomas looked more in control overall, it’s because the Bruins were more in control defensively overall, limiting the times he felt the need to challenge aggressively.
“I let the game dictate how I play,” he later told ESPN. “I don’t try to play a style and dictate the way a game goes in front of me.”
Thomas’ cerebral approach to every save has been well documented in past articles here at InGoal Magazine, including how his experience reading plays and shots allows him to avoid using the butterfly as his only save selection, instead employing a patient mix of on-the-skates and half-butterfly saves necessary given he only stands 5-foot-11.
“I can’t go on my knees and cover the whole top corners with my shoulders, so I have to be selective with when I am down on my knees and selective with when I stand up and I’ve had to learn over the years to read whether a guy is shooting high or a guy is shooting low,” he said in a late season Ask a Pro in which he also stressed his “street hockey” approach as something more young goalies need to try. “Years and years of practice kind of gives you the percentages in your head so when you don’t know whether to stay down or go up you choose based on experience.”
It was that same experience – this time from practice – that led Thomas to throw a big hit on Henrik Sedin later in the game:
“He was catching the puck. That happens a lot in practice off of rebounds and stuff like that, where the guy reaches up to catch the puck,” Thomas said after the game I’ve learned from practice if you wait for him, he can put it down this way or he can put it down this way. I get scored on in practice if I sit back and try to react to where he sits the puck down with his hand. I had 1/100th of a second to make a decision of what I was going to do. That’s the way I decided to play it to try to keep the puck out of the net.”
Again, Thomas stresses that he makes those decisions based on each save, not as part of some conscious “I’m going to be less aggressive (or in that case more aggressive) today” approach that develops over a series or season. And yes, sometimes that does mean being less aggressive on specific saves, as he was on these game-changing stops on Raymond with 1:10 left in the first period:
“When he walked the D I had to make a decision whether to be aggressive or play it straight up and in this case I decided to play it straight up,” Thomas told ESPN. “And I was able to make that first save and find the puck so I could make that second save too.”
The fact Raymond started his attack in tight played a role, as Thomas is typically at his most aggressive off the rush. That sometimes creates backwards flow that leaves him off angle and causes some of the “soft” goals he gave up in the Eastern Conference final against Tampa Bay.
Like all goalies, there are good and bad with Thomas, strengths and weaknesses. The aggressiveness that serves him so well can be used against him without the right kind of help from his defense. It’s no different than Roberto Luongo getting ventilated because of his deeper positioning when the Canucks gave up the middle of the ice to the corner-picking Blackhawks in the first round.
Luongo didn’t change after that, but his team has done a better job since at shutting down the front of his net, including second chances the first two games of the final. Similarly, Thomas didn’t change dramatically after the first two games of this series.
Their differing styles are not always perfect, and won’t always work, but it’s also part of why they’re playing for the Stanley Cup.