Tim Thomas

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

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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.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.