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.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.