Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas wins 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy, drives home the point with Game 7 shutout

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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.

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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.

Despres, Perron return to Pittsburgh for the first time since being traded to Anaheim

FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2015, file photo, Anaheim Ducks defenseman Simon Despres skates before an NHL preseason hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. Despres has agreed to a five-year contract extension with the Ducks on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, solidifying his role in Anaheim after joining the club in a trade last season. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)
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Simon Despres and David Perron will return to Pittsburgh for the first time since they were shipped to Anaheim via trade.

Monday’s tilt at the Consol Engery Center will be special for both individuals.

Despres was traded to Anaheim for Ben Lovejoy last March, while Perron was sent to the Ducks earlier this season.

Both players may have had some good times in Pittsburgh, but in both instances, things didn’t end up the way they had envisioned.

“I don’t want to talk about that,” Perron said of things not working out in Pittsburgh, per the Post-Gazette. “I made some great relationships. Some really good friends.

“The only thing, it didn’t work. That’s what what [general manager] Jim Rutherford and I and [head coach] Mike Sullivan talked when the trade happened. I wish it would have been different but that’s the way it goes sometimes. It didn’t click as good as you wanted it to be. I’m happy I got a new start and it’s going well.”

The 27-year-old played 86 games over two seasons with the Penguins, and he managed to score just 16 goals and 38 points during that span.

Things have been a lot better for him since the move to Anaheim. Perron has three goals, five assists and a plus-7 rating in his first seven games as a Duck.

As for Despres, things haven’t been as smooth since his departure from the Penguins.

The 24-year-old played well in the final month of the season last year, but he missed 42 games in 2015-16 because of a concussion he suffered near the beginning of the season.

He’s been a welcomed addition to the lineup. Anaheim hasn’t lost since Despres returned to the lineup on Jan. 26.

“He hasn’t gotten any points but we haven’t lost since he’s been back,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said, via the Post-Gazette. “We missed him for sure. In the playoffs last year, he was as good of a defenseman as we had. Big and strong and played against big opposition and he didn’t tire. The more games he gets, the better he’s going to get.”

The defenseman spent most of his adult life in the Penguins organization and he admits that’s something he’ll never forget.

“I guarantee that I’ll be a little bit emotional for the game [tonight],” said Despres. “Spent a lot of years here. A lot of memories and good friends. A lot of friends in Pittsburgh.”

PHT Morning Skate: Sens’ Lazar, Stone broke out of scoring slumps after giving homeless men $50

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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.

Curtis Lazar and Mark Stone found a new way to bust out of scoring slumps. (Ottawa Citizen)

–This young defenseman scored a beautiful goal during a Swedish League game:

–A Kings fan had forward Milan Lucic sign a toaster. (Bardown)

–Watch the highlights from yesterday’s game between the Capitals and Flyers (top of the page).

–The Anaheim Ducks wore Los Angeles Angels themed jerseys during pregame warmup on Friday night:

–On Sunday, Andrei Markov became the third Canadiens defenseman in history to play in 900 games.

–Sports Illustrated looks at the next group of Russian hockey players that will make an impact in the NHL. (Sports Illustrated)

J.T. Miller might be breaking through for the Rangers

New York Rangers center J.T. Miller celebrates after scoring his second goal of the game against the New Jersey Devils during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Newark, N.J. The Devils won 3-2. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
AP
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Don’t look now, but J.T. Miller might just be “getting it.”

By “it” you can mean a number of things: New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault’s confidence, his own confidence and that scoring touch at the NHL level.

He’s been on particularly hot streak for the last three weeks or so. While he failed to score in Saturday’s win against the Philadelphia Flyers, Miller reeled off a run in which he scored five points in three games and eight goals during a nine-game span.

His teammates and coach have taken notice, too, as Denis Gorman of Metro New York reports.

“The first practice I saw him, his strength, the way he shoots the puck. He has good hands, vision, he has everything to become a great hockey player,” Henrik Lundqvist said. “He’s getting there. He’s improving so much, but the biggest thing is probably just confidence, realizing that he is that good and he can use all these tools to be a great player.”

The Rangers aim to be a regular contender, and sometimes staying in the picture is all about developing prospects like Miller.

At the moment, it looks like he’s trending in an impressive direction.

Isles clobber Oilers, Okposo nabs second career hat trick

New York Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo (21) reacts as he sits beside right wing Cal Clutterbuck (15) on the bench after scoring his third goal for a hat trick against the Edmonton Oilers in the third period of an NHL hockey game in New York, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. The Islanders defeated the Oilers 8-1. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
AP
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NEW YORK (AP) After two disappointing road losses, the New York Islanders needed to face a last-place opponent like the Edmonton Oilers.

Kyle Okposo had his second career hat trick after the Islanders opened a commanding lead with three first-period goals and New York routed the Oilers 8-1 on Sunday.

Thomas Greiss made 30 saves for the Islanders (27-18-6), who moved within three points of the New York Rangers for second-place in the Metropolitan Division.

“It was good. Good to put up eight. It was a pretty good team effort,” Okposo said. “I thought we were going on all cylinders. It’s definitely nice to get rewarded.”

Johnny Boychuck, John Tavares and Nikolay Kulemin scored in the opening period, chasing former Islanders goalie Anders Nilsson, who was replaced after Kulemin’s goal by former Ranger Cam Talbot.

Boychuk, in his first home game after missing 11 games overall with an upper body injury suffered on Dec. 31 at Buffalo, ripped a slap shot past Nilsson at 2:57 for his fourth goal of the season.

“It’s always good when you strike early,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “We did a lot of good things and got two points.”

Tavares made it 2-0 at 9:12 with his 19th goal before Kulemin added his sixth at 11:24. Oilers coach Todd McLellan then pulled Nilsson, who stopped only seven of the 10 shots he faced.

Okposo made it 4-0 at 2:32 of the second, then scored again at 6:09 of the middle period.

After Oilers rookie sensation Connor McDavid finally put Edmonton on the board with his seventh goal at 6:50, Josh Bailey made it 6-1 at 9:36.

Cal Clutterbuck increased the margin to 7-1 at 16:04 of the middle period with his 11th goal. Talbot raised his arms in frustration after Clutterbuck’s goal, seemingly exasperated with the defensive effort in front of him.

Okposo completed his hat trick at 7:27 of the third, when he whipped a shot on the power play past Talbot for his 15th goal of the season. The goal made it 8-1 and led to a cascade of hats tossed onto the Barclays Center ice. It was a season high in goals for the Islanders.

“Kyle has been playing awesome,” said defenseman Nick Leddy, who had three assists. “His contributions have been felt all year. He has been one of the best players on the ice game in and game out.”

The defeat following Saturday night’s 5-1 loss at Montreal left McLellan fuming.

“I don’t think we were prepared to play for those first few goals against,” McLellan said. “I’m very disappointed in the preparation and the approach to the game. We got our butts handed to us in Montreal and came here and responded in a very inappropriate way. ”

The 19-year-old McDavid – the first overall pick in last June’s draft – returned after missing 37 games with a broken collarbone for the opening game of the Edmonton’s four-game trip. McDavid scored once and added two assists in a 5-1 win at Columbus, then had two assists in a 7-2 victory at Ottawa.

Playing his first game since Jan. 12, Greiss was his usual stellar self. He didn’t have an especially tough game despite the litany of offensive skill on the Oilers roster in addition to McDavid.

“It always helps when we score a bunch of quick goals. It seemed like it was going our way tonight,” Greiss said. “That would be awesome if we could score eight goals every game. We have to be realistic. It’s not going to happen too often.”

Greiss improved to 14-6-2 this season, his first with the Islanders.

The Islanders improved to 17-8-3 at Barclays Center in their first season in Brooklyn after 43 years at Nassau Coliseum.

The Oilers haven’t won in New York against the Islanders since Dec. 14, 1999, when they beat the Islanders 4-2 at Nassau Coliseum.

NOTES: Former Islander Griffin Reinhart played against the team that drafted him fourth overall in 2012 for the first time. … The teams meet again in Edmonton on Feb. 28.