Stanley Cup or not, Tim Thomas is producing a special 2010-11 season and playoffs

1 Comment

As I pointed out in late May, Tim Thomas is putting together a truly rare run of an excellence in his combined 2010-11 regular season and playoffs.

If you look at his regular season or postseason results separately, they don’t seem that unusual. Goalies such as Ryan Miller have had outstanding regular season outputs while everyone from Antti Niemi to Jean-Sebastien Giguere managed to turn some heads with red-hot playoff runs.

There haven’t been many netminders who can produce a superlative set of performances in both facets of an NHL year, though. (The last goalie to win the Stanley Cup and Vezina Trophy in the same season was Martin Brodeur in 2002-03, for example.) Few recent Vezina Trophy winners managed to keep their great performances going during the up-and-down grind that is the NHL postseason, but Thomas has been the exception.

Thomas matches stunning season with great playoffs

After sitting out the Boston Bruins’ 2010 playoff campaign after being usurped by strong backup Tuukka Rask, Thomas is having the run of a lifetime. He broke Dominik Hasek’s single-season save percentage during the regular season with a .938 mark and hasn’t missed a beat in the playoffs, conjuring up a nearly identical (and stunning) .937 rate. Save percentage is considered the most reliable way to distinguish a goalie’s worth outside of his team’s quality play, but he GAA was also outstanding in both the regular season (2.00) and playoffs (2.07).

Those stats are tantalizing for hockey nerds such as myself to chew on, but Thomas also happens to ply his trade in the most entertaining way imaginable. While a great save can be jaw-dropping even when a tactician such as Roberto Luongo manages the feat, Thomas flails his body around in a way that can only be compared to oddballs such as Dominik Hasek. In a way, Thomas’ accomplishments are just as impressive as the work produced by “The Dominator” because he plays in a more wide-open era of hockey.

An unusual mindset to match an unusual style

When discussing the differences between Luongo and Thomas to my buddy, the simplest explanation of why Thomas is a rare goalie spilled out. While Luongo can occasionally – not always, but every now and then – linger upon a goal allowed and come unhinged, Thomas seems to get angry. During one especially impressive win against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Thomas allowed a Simon Gagne one-timer goal on the first shot he saw. The Bolts didn’t score on him again in that game.

Perhaps the most appealing thing about Thomas is his ever-present smile (or conversely, his sometimes-feral rage). He seems to be loose even in the tightest of situations, something Joe Haggerty captured in this story.

Thomas was asked how he manages to focus with “millions and millions” of hockey fans watching his every move, and he quickly replied that those millions are the first thing he eliminates every time he straps on the equipment. There wasn’t any pressure on Thomas as a young kid learning how to play the goalie position, and the wide smile on his face in the third period of Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning told you he was feeling no pressure whatsoever with his team’s fate on the line.

“There are only 12 players out on the ice at any given time, max, and the ice surface is the same size,” said Thomas, who leads all NHL playoff goalies with the 2.07 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. “There is only one puck in play at all times and I think you just focus on the nuances of the game.

Ranking among the all-time greats

Thomas’ run stands shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best playoff goalie performances in recent (and in some cases, overall) NHL history. Corey Masisak compares his work to the best of Patrick Roy and Hasek.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, Thomas has the best GAA since Hasek posted a 1.18 for the Detroit Red Wings in a five-game victory against Carolina in 2002 and the best save percentage since Roy’s .973 for Colorado in a four-game sweep of Florida in 1996.

It’s not as if Thomas hasn’t been busy, either. He has a strong chance of breaking Kirk McLean’s all-time record for saves in a single postseason; McLean made 761 while Thomas currently has 725. The Bruins have allowed 33.7 shots per game while the Canucks are averaging 31.9 in the playoffs, so Boston might need to reach their first-ever Game 7 in a Stanley Cup finals series to help Thomas get the 37 saves required to break that record.

Yet even if Thomas falls short of a Stanley Cup and loses tonight, he still put together one of the best runs a goalie has experienced in a long, long time.

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers

Getty Images
Leave a comment

WATCH LIVE on NBC – 12 PM ET

PROJECTED LINES

Philadelphia Flyers

Forwards
Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Jakub VoracekNolan PatrickWayne Simmonds
Michael RafflScott LaughtonJordan Weal
Jori LehteraValtteri FilppulaDale Weise

Defensemen
Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth

New York Rangers

Forwards
Rick NashMika ZibanejadMats Zuccarello
Michael GrabnerKevin HayesJ.T. Miller
Jimmy VeseyDavid DesharnaisJesper Fast
Paul CareyPeter HollandPavel Buchnevich

Defensemen
Brady Skjei – Neal Pionk
Nick HoldenAnthony DeAngelo
John Gilmour – Ryan Sproul

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Olympians put hockey seasons on hold as teams play back home

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Ryan Donato would love to clone himself so he could play at the Olympics and Harvard at the same time.

He has to be content will trying to win a medal for the United States. Donato is one of a handful of players and coaches in the Olympic men’s hockey tournament who are playing in South Korea while their teams back home continue with their schedule.

European leagues and the KHL took an Olympic break. Like the NHL, the American Hockey League and the NCAA are still going. Donato and others are keeping in touch with members of their team primarily by text, but are immersing themselves in this tournament.

”You put so much time and effort into your team,” said Donato, who will miss at least four Harvard games depending on how far the U.S. advances. ”Those are the guys who are all my brothers. … (But) this team here deserves everything I’ve got, and I’m going to put everything I’ve got into it.”

Beyond Donato, the U.S. has head coach Tony Granato (University of Wisconsin) and assistants Keith Allain (Yale) and Scott Young (Pittsburgh Penguins) and the majority of players putting their seasons on hold: Troy Terry (Denver University), Jordan Greenway (Boston University), Will Borgen (Notre Dame), Chris Bourque (AHL Hershey), John McCarthy (AHL San Jose) and Bobby Butler (AHL Milwaukee). Canada has two: Cody Goloubef (AHL Stockton) and Christian Thomas (AHL Wilkes-Barre Scranton).

It’s taking some getting used to.

”It is strange,” Allain said. ”Luckily for me, I’ve got two assistant coaches that I trust completely. We’re on the same page all the time whether I’m there or not there and we talk on a daily basis. Our team swept (last weekend) so things are good back in New Haven.”

When Milwaukee swept a weekend series without him, Butler joked, ”I think they dropped the dead weight.” He said he had heard from a few veteran players via text that some teammates were stepping up in his absence.

Admirals coaches and executives told Butler they hoped he’d make the Olympic team, and now his teammates are motivated by trying to win for him.

”We have a great group back home and I wouldn’t be here without them,” said Butler, who could miss as many as nine games. ”When I left, all the guys gave me big hugs. … They’re a great group of guys and I wouldn’t be here without them. I’ll miss them for the duration.”

Bourque texts with teammates back home, but the 32-year-old veteran is compartmentalizing and not worrying about the Bears for these two weeks.

”I’ve got a huge opportunity to play at the Olympics and I’ve got to give 100 percent of my attention to this team because everyone’s all in,” said Bourque, who could miss seven to nine AHL games. ”I’m invested 100 percent with this team. Obviously I hope my team does well back home, but that’s not my priority right now.”

It was Granato’s priority, too, though he knew going in he would only miss two to four Wisconsin games. While splitting his attention between his college team and preparations for the Olympics, he made sure associate coach Mark Osiecki and the rest of the Badgers’ staff and team were set up to be OK without him.

”Everything that we did leading up to that was preparations knowing that I’d be gone for a few weeks,” Granato said. ”If there’s a hard decision or something happened or there’s an injury back there and they need to talk to me (they can call). I think everything’s under control there and taken care of.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

The Buzzer: Raanta shutout, Brassard showcase, Blackhawks finally win

Getty Images
3 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Players of the Night:

Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes: Raanta shutout Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, stopping all 40 shots sent his way for his first goose egg as a member of the Coyotes.

Derick Brassard, Ottawa Senators: The Derick Brassard Showcase continued on Saturday night. The Senators forward, who has been the subject of trade speculation leading up to the trade deadline in two weeks, scored in his fourth straight game and added two helpers in a 6-3 win against the New York Rangers.

Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights: Smith extended his point streak to seven games, scoring twice and adding a helper in a 6-3 win against the Montreal Canadiens. Smith has five goals and seven assists during his streak and now has 51 points in 58 games this season.

Anders Nilsson, Vancouver Canucks: Nilsson turned aside 44 of the 45 shots he faced from one of the league’s hottest teams in the Boston Bruins. The Canucks obliged their goaltender, scoring six and chasing Tuukka Rask in a 6-1 win.

Jonathan Toews and the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks: Losers of eight straight coming into Saturday, the Blackhawks finally ended the streak, putting up seven goals against the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals. Toews had a goal and two assists in the game. It was Chicago’s first win of the month and their seven goals were half of the number they scored in their previous eight games.

Eddie Lack, New Jersey Devils: Lack wasn’t supposed to be playing against the league’s top team. But there he was on Saturday, stopping 48 of 51 shots against Stamkos, Kucherov and Co. He even out-dueled Andrei Vasilevskiy, who will likely win the Vezina in June. Impressive stuff.

Highlights of the Night:

Ryan Hartman, untouchable:

Nikita Scherbak’d:

Matt Murray did this two nights ago. Deja vu:

Two-pad stack alert:

Factoids of the Night:

The season can’t end fast enough for the Oilers:

The Golden Knights are creeping toward another record:

Evgeni Malkin hits 900:

MISC:

Scores:

Kings 4, Sabres 2

Ducks 3, Wild 2 (SO)

Senators 6, Rangers 3

Coyotes 1, Oilers 0

Golden Knights 3, Canadiens 3

Devils 4, Lightning 3

Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 3

Red Wings 3, Predators 1

Blackhawks 7, Capitals 1

Canucks 6, Bruins 1

Panthers 6, Flames 3


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blackhawks fans tossed after racist taunts toward Capitals’ Devante Smith-Pelly

Associated Press
35 Comments

Four Chicago Blackhawks fans were kicked out of Saturday’s game against the Washington Capitals at United Center after racially-charged taunts were made toward Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly, serving a five-minute major for fighting in the third period, got upset with a fan next to him who, according to the Washington Post, was chanting, “Basketball, basketball basketball,” toward Smith-Pelly, who is black. 

“There’s absolutely no place in a game of hockey, or a country, for racism,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said after the game. “I think it’s disgusting. There’s no place for it. The athletes in this country don’t deserve that. It just shows ignorance.”

Trotz said he hadn’t spoken with DSP about the incident, but said he was upset and his teammates had been talking with him.

DSP did not speak with the media following the game, which the Capitals lost 7-1.

February is Hockey is For Everyone month in the NHL.

The Blackhawks issued a statement following the game

“We were made aware of an incident at tonight’s game involving a small group of attendees who made harmful comments directed at Washington Capitals player Devante Smith-Pelly,” a Hawks spokesperson said. “The fans were immediately removed and we apologize to Smith-Pelly and the Washington Capitals organization. We are committed to providing an inclusive environment for everyone who attends our games and these actions will never be tolerated.”

UPDATE: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement on Sunday morning:

“Last night in Chicago, individuals directed racial taunts and abuse at Washington Capitals player Devante Smith-Pelly,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “The National Hockey League condemns this unacceptable and reprehensible behavior. The League fully supports the actions taken by the United Center and the Blackhawks to eject the offenders and would expect the same response to any similarly unacceptable behavior at any of our arenas.

“While this incident was isolated in nature, no player, coach, official or fan should ever have to endure such abuse at one of our games. The League will take steps to have our clubs remind all stakeholders that they are entitled to enjoy a positive environment – free from unacceptable, inappropriate, disruptive, inconsiderate or unruly behaviors or actions and may not engage in conduct deemed detrimental to that experience.”

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck