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.

Anderson, Cogliano, Ryan named 2017 Masterton nominees

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The PHWA announced the three finalists for the NHL’s 2017 Bill Masterton Trophy: Craig Anderson, Andrew Cogliano and Derek Ryan.

As a reminder, the award is for “the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

Ryan distinguished himself as a 29-year-old who battled his way to time in the NHL, managing a goal in his debut game with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Cogliano stands out as one of the “iron men” of the NHL for the Anaheim Ducks. The PHWA notes that he’s never missed a game in his career, managing a streak of 779 games.

Finally, there’s Anderson, who managed an impressive season in net for the Ottawa Senators while his wife Nicholle battles a rare form of throat cancer. That emotional story continued after Anderson backstopped the Senators in beating the Boston Bruins in the first round.

Marleau says he wants to return to Sharks, but it might not be so easy

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It seemed strangely fitting that Patrick Marleau scored the final goal of the San Jose Sharks’ season as the Edmonton Oilers eliminated them in Game 6.

Monday presented questions about what that goal means.

For one thing, it definitely doesn’t sound like Marleau expects that to be his final goal in the NHL, as he believes he has “at least five good years in me, or maybe more,” according to NBC Sports California’s Kevin Kurz.

“I still think I can contribute and play,” Marleau said. “Until I think I can’t do that anymore, I’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

The 37-year-old made a strong argument that he can still light up the lamp in 2016-17. He scored 27 goals and 46 points during the regular season and ended his playoff run with three goals and an assist (all in the final three contests vs. Edmonton).

Marleau was especially effective once the new year rolled around, collecting 29 points in his last 41 games.

Before we get to the more unpleasant stuff, let’s watch that last goal:

So … yeah, that’s a pretty convincing case that he can at least still play now.

The bigger question is: if Marleau really wants term, are the Sharks willing to give him what he’s looking for?

Marleau admitted that discussions on an extension haven’t even happened yet. When you consider the upcoming challenges for San Jose, you wonder if this is it for a player who’s suited up for a whopping 1,493 regular season games with the franchise (even after there were significant trade rumors over the years).

Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s outstanding value $4.25 million cap hit evaporates after 2017-18, and the same can be said for Martin Jones‘ $3 million mark. One could imagine the Sharks approaching Marleau with a very appealing one-year offer, but it would be a big leap to imagine the franchise going for a guy who’s approaching 40 instead of a solid starting goalie and one of the best pure defensemen in the NHL.

So, really, the question isn’t “Will Marleau really play for five more years?” Instead, it might be “Does Marleau value playing for the Sharks enough to take a shorter deal or does he want that term right now?”

What is Alex Galchenyuk’s future in Montreal?

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Alex Galchenyuk is already a good player.

The question for the Montreal Canadiens is, can he be great?

Galchenyuk, the third overall draft pick in 2012, is coming off a decent regular season with 17 goals and 27 assists in 61 games. However, it wasn’t as good as last year’s 30-goal campaign, and he didn’t score a single goal in the playoffs.

“Hopefully he took a step back this year so he can take two forward next year,” GM Marc Bergevin said Monday at the Canadiens’ season-ending press conference.

Three assists were all Galchenyuk could manage in six games against the Rangers. More importantly, after more than 300 NHL games of experience, the 23-year-old is still not an everyday center, on a team where center depth is by far the biggest concern.

Habs defenseman Shea Weber thinks Galchenyuk still has a ton of potential.

“I think we’ve seen glimpses of it,” Weber said, per NHL.com’s Arpon Basu, “but I don’t think he’s tapped into how good he can be. One day he’s going to realize it, like all young guys do, he’s going to get it.”

Of course, not all young guys do get it. And at times, there have been questions about Galchenyuk’s competitiveness.

To play center in the NHL, you have to compete all over the ice.

“Ideally, we would love to have him play center,” head coach Claude Julien said. “But I think he realizes the same thing we realize right now. As a centerman, it’s one of the toughest jobs there is because you have to be all over the ice, and you’ve got to be able to skate. As a centerman, you have to be good at both ends of the ice, and you have to be responsible. Right now, he’s not at that stage.”

The kicker in all this is that Galchenyuk can become a restricted free agent this summer. He’s already signed one bridge deal, and he’s at the age now where many young stars sign for big money and a long term.

So, does he want to sign long term in Montreal?

He ducked the question today.

“My season just ended a couple of days ago,” Galchenyuk told reporters. “I honestly didn’t give it too much of a thought yet.”

Kunitz cleared for contact, available for start of Caps series

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The Pens may get back one of their most veteran skaters for their second-round series against Washington.

Chris Kunitz, who missed the last five regular season games and all of Pittsburgh’s Round 1 win over Columbus, has been cleared for contact (per the Tribune-Review) and could return from his lower-body ailment for Thursday’s opener at Verizon.

Kunitz, 37, finished the year with nine goals and 29 points in 71 games, averaging 15:31 TOI per night. It was a down season offensively, but the Pens are hopeful he can reclaim some of the form shown last spring, when he racked up 12 points in 24 games en route to the title.

A three-time Cup winner, Kunitz skated on the fourth line at today’s practice with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnackl.

In other health news, the Pens also declared d-man Chad Ruhwedel a game-time decision for Thursday, after he was sidelined with an upper-body injury. Carl Hagelin, out with a lower-body ailment, has continued skating and head coach Mike Sullivan said the team is hopeful Hagelin can play at some point against Washington.