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.)

1997-98

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

98-99
Hamilton Bulldogs (15)
HIFK (14)

99-00
Detroit Vipers (36)

00-01
AIK (Allmänna Idrottsklubben Ishockeyförening) (43) – Swedish league

01-02
Kärpät (32) – Finnish league

02-03
Providence Bruins (35)
Boston Bruins (4)

03-04
Providence Bruins (43)

04-05
Jokerit (54) – Finnish league

05-06
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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‘I wasn’t good enough,’ says Lundqvist after double OT loss to Senators

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The task wasn’t impossible, but certainly daunting.

The Ottawa Senators needed five goals on Henrik Lundqvist just to send Game 2 into overtime.

The Rangers goalie had been spectacular for most of this post-season entering Saturday’s contest, but the Senators, led by a sensational four-goal performance from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, found a way to break through for a 6-5 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead against New York.

They did so on just 34 shots through almost 83 minutes against Lundqvist.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Lundqvist, per the New York Daily News. “Coming up with the extra save there in the end, that’s my job. Even though it’s tough plays on deflections, I’ve got to find a way.”

On three occasions, the Rangers held a two-goal lead. That includes with under five minutes remaining in regulation. They even had a pair of shorthanded goals. But they couldn’t hang on, as Pageau scored twice in the final 3:19 of regulation to record his hat trick.

That set the stage for the eventual winner, as he beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder with a shot from his off-wing on a two-on-one rush.

With the Senators in control, the series returns to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” said Lundqvist. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly they’ve gotten the bounces here in the first two games.”

Capitals’ Holtby begins third period on the bench, Grubauer takes over in net

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Braden Holtby began the third period of Saturday’s Game 2 on the bench, giving way to Philipp Grubauer.

The Washington Capitals fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 after two periods, with Holtby allowing three goals on just 14 shots. It will be interesting to hear the reason for this decision from coach Barry Trotz following the game.

The Capitals had dominated on the shot clock, but gave up a pair of quick goals to fall further behind Pittsburgh in this game, while trailing in the series 1-0.

Phil Kessel — on a great play from Sidney Crosby — and Jake Guentzel scored 3:10 apart to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead.

Penguins’ Hornqvist hurt after blocking shot vs. Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have had to shuffle their forward combinations in the second period, after Patric Hornqvist was hurt blocking a shot in the first period of Game 2 versus the Capitals.

The Penguins forward was in obvious pain after taking a shot right around the ankle, which is a concerning development for Pittsburgh.

Per reports, he didn’t re-join the Penguins at the bench when the second period began.

Hornqvist can be a frustrating player to go up against, and he’s productive, too, with two goals and five points in six playoff games prior to Saturday.

Moving on up: Devils win NHL Draft Lottery, secure No. 1 overall pick

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The New Jersey Devils entered the Draft Lottery with an 8.5 per cent chance of winning it. They will leave with the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft.

The Devils finished the regular season with just 70 points, tied with Arizona for the third fewest in the overall standings. They’ve also had plenty of difficulty scoring goals in recent years, and this provides them with an opportunity to land a player — forwards Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier are expected to be the top two players selected in June — that can help remedy that.

It’s become quite a close race between the two heading into the draft, which goes June 23-24 in Chicago.

From Bob McKenzie of TSN:

For TSN’s Draft Lottery edition, five scouts ranked the 6-foot-2, 198-pound Patrick No. 1; five scouts ranked the 6-foot-1, 176-pound Hischier No. 1. The Swiss pivot has closed the gap with his dynamic play, which came at a time when Patrick’s injury-riddled season was ended prematurely by an upper-body ailment that wasn’t related to the groin/abdominal issues that plagued him for the first half of the season.

While the Devils emerged as the overall winners, the Philadelphia Flyers had an enormous rise up the board. So, too, did the Dallas Stars.

The Flyers had just a 2.2 per cent chance of winning the lottery, yet they moved all the way up into the No. 2 selection spot when it was over. The Stars, with a 5.8 per cent chance of winning the lottery, also had a good day, moving up into the No. 3 overall spot.

Here is the 2017 draft order:

  1. New Jersey Devils
  2. Philadelphia Flyers
  3. Dallas Stars
  4. Colorado Avalanche
  5. Vancouver Canucks
  6. Vegas Golden Knights
  7. Arizona Coyotes
  8. Buffalo Sabres
  9. Detroit Red Wings
  10. Florida Panthers
  11. L.A. Kings
  12. Carolina Hurricanes
  13. Winnipeg Jets
  14. Tampa Bay Lightning
  15. New York Islanders

As you see, there were a few other key developments in this lottery.

Vegas was given a 10.3 per cent chance at winning the top pick — the same odds given to the 28th place team — however, the Golden Knights will pick sixth overall. The Colorado Avalanche, which finished with a miserable 48 points and had the best odds to win lottery, now pick fourth overall.

And once again, the Canucks endured more disappointment at the lottery.

Last year, they dropped two spots, from third to fifth. Needing an impact forward in order to help kickstart their rebuild, they dropped three spots, from No. 2 to No. 5 overall, on Saturday.

Related: Report: Devils GM plans to reach out to Kovalchuk’s agent next week