Tampa Bay Lightning v Boston Bruins - Game Seven

Tim Thomas travels long, bumpy road to 2011 Stanley Cup finals

There are a lot of deserving players on both sides of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. Really, anyone willing to fight through 82 regular season games and 18 playoff games earned the right to be there on Wednesday in Game 1. Still, there are certain Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks whose stories are a bit less ordinary and a lot more inspiring.

For the Canucks, defenseman Sami Salo’s injury-filled career makes him an easy player to root for. The Bruins feature a solid cast of interesting characters, including 43-year-old potential Hall of Famer Mark Recchi, but the best story might be of their best player: goalie Tim Thomas.

Despite breaking club records at the University of Vermont with Martin St. Louis, Thomas took a long time to convince people that he could make his unorthodox style work at the NHL level. Take a look at all of the stops he made on his way to becoming a full-fledged starter (and eventually, an all-world goalie) with the Bruins.

(Games played for each team listed in parenthesis.)


HIFK (Helsingin IFK)  (6 games) – Finnish league
Houston Aeros (1 game)

Hamilton Bulldogs (15)
HIFK (14)

Detroit Vipers (36)

AIK (Allmänna Idrottsklubben Ishockeyförening) (43) – Swedish league

Kärpät (32) – Finnish league

Providence Bruins (35)
Boston Bruins (4)

Providence Bruins (43)

Jokerit (54) – Finnish league

Providence Bruins (26)
Boston Bruins (38)

06-07 – current
Boston Bruins (277)

It’s amazing to think about how far Thomas has come (literally and figuratively) to get to this point. He didn’t really become the Bruins’ top goalie until he reached his 30’s and he lost his starting job to Tuukka Rask in 2009-10*, yet he keeps silencing his critics one breathtaking and terrifying save at a time. He used his unusual style to win the 08-09 Vezina Trophy and seems like an odds-on favorite to win it again this year. He continued much of that momentum in the playoffs, standing as the No. 1 reason the Bruins got this far.

Still, he faces one more big obstacle on his way to the ultimate validation that is a Stanley Cup victory: the deep, talented and rugged Vancouver Canucks. This is the toughest overall team Thomas’ Bruins could face, and if you ask many hockey people, they’ll tell you that the Canucks are a considerably stronger overall team. Yet as we’ve seen time and time again in playoff history, a red-hot goalie can change everything.

In other words: Tim Thomas will likely be asked to defy the odds starting in Game 1 on Wednesday. Something tells us he’ll be familiar with that proposition.

* Here is a video covering how Thomas bounced back from that “off year” in 09-10.

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PHT Morning Skate: Beat writers survey predicts Ducks will win Cup

Corey Perry, Frederik Andersen
AP Photo
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

In a survey of 29 beat writers, the Anaheim Ducks emerged as the clear favorite to win the Stanley Cup. If you’ll recall, they have that in common with the EA Sports simulation. (Boston Globe)

Alex Ovechkin would pick an Olympic hit against Jaromir Jagr as the biggest check of his life. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

Here are the highlights from Minnesota’s 5-4 victory over Colorado:

The Montreal Canadiens seem committed to using Alex Galchenyuk as a center throughout the 2015-16 campaign. (The Canadian Press)

The NHL recently enlisted its players to read off some not so mean tweets. (USA Today)

Bills coach Rex Ryan talked about the Sabres in Thursday’s press conference. (NHL.com)

Frederik Andersen may have the Anaheim Ducks’ starting job for now, but with John Gibson still a big part of their plans, Andersen has to keep proving himself. (Orange County Register)

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.