It’s been a bizarre journey for Tim Thomas, the obvious winner of the 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy.
The unorthodox goalie enjoyed a great run at the University of Vermont alongside Martin St. Louis, but didn’t really get much of a shot as a ninth round pick with the Quebec Nordiques. He was forced to spend his twenties bouncing around North American minor leagues as well as professional teams in Sweden and Finland before he finally stuck with the Boston Bruins at age 31.
Since then, he climbed the ranks until he was often one of the best goalies in the NHL, although his challenges haven’t evaporated along the way. Thomas won the 2008-09 Vezina Trophy only to lose his starting job in 09-10 to his strong backup, Tuukka Rask. Many considered Thomas trade bait going into this season, but those people have been silenced all year long.
Simply put, Thomas put together one of the greatest combined playoff and postseason runs of any goalie in recent memory (if not NHL history). He broke Dominik Hasek’s single-season record for save percentage during the regular season and is the odds-on candidate to win the Georges Vezina Trophy, but he’ll be best remembered for his phenomenal postseason.
Thomas put together a record-breaking playoff run
His numbers look fantastic, even out of their historical context. Thomas earned a 16-9 record (including three Game 7 wins), posted a gaudy .940 save percentage (better than the record .938 mark he earned in the regular season), a fantastic 1.98 GAA and four shutouts. Two of those goose eggs came in Game 7 matches, by the way.
Thomas’ amazing 2011 playoff run doesn’t just look great compared to his peers, though; it’s one of the best any goalie has seen in NHL history.
He broke Kirk McLean’s all-time record for saves in a single playoff year, stopping 798 shots. Thomas also broke the record for most saves in a Stanley Cup finals series, stopping 238 in seven games. He also became only the second American-born player to win the Conn Smythe (Brian Leetch earned that award – also against the Canucks – in 1994). The 37-year-old goalie also ranks as the oldest player to win the award.
Even when the Vancouver Canucks managed to win games, they rarely “solved” Thomas, despite that foot-in-the-mouth statement from Roberto Luongo. Thomas only allowed eight goals in the seven-game series, somehow elevating his game another level when the pressure was at an all-time high.
It’s not really fair to compare any goalie to Thomas at this point, but the differences between their overall work in this series is still pretty stark. Luongo fell apart a handful of times in the Cup finals series while Thomas received excessive criticism for two of the three game-winning goals he allowed.
Winning it all will help immortalize his 2011 performances
While Thomas already looked like a shoo-in to win the playoff MVP even before Game 6 (let alone tonight’s deciding contest), there was the worry that his historic playoff run would get swept under the rug in defeat. Tonight’s 37-save shutout came when the entire hockey world was watching – not to mention a ton of fans with a limited interest in the sport – so any doubt regarding Thomas’ amazing work should be washed away.
If he faces any doubters, he can simply point to his trophies from 2010-11: the Conn Smythe Trophy, all of the records he broke, a Stanley Cup ring … and most likely, the Vezina Trophy as well. It’s natural to want to go over-the-top when praising the “next big thing” but in the case of the year Thomas had, it might be the only reasonable thing to do.