Tim Thomas: Bruins’ Backup to Stanley Cup Champion

To say that former Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas had an up and down career for the Black and Gold would be an understatement. When he was on his game, he was one of the best goalies in the league. Even the best go through rough patches, but they work their way through the tough times.

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Thomas won the Vezina Trophy in 2009 before a disappointing 2009-10 season when he fell into the backup role behind Tuukka Rask. Some players might have carried a grudge. Not Thomas.

From Vezina Trophy to Backup

In the 2008-09 season, Thomas played up to the potential the Bruins saw in him. Boston finished the season with 116 points, one behind the San Jose Sharks for the Presidents’ Trophy. They had a 53-19-10 record and secured the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Tim Thomas (IconSMI)

Thomas went 36-11-7 that season with five shutouts. He finished with a 2.10 goals-against average (GAA) and a .933 save percentage (SV%). That summer, he edged out Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom and Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the Vezina Trophy. Backstrom finished with a 37-24-8 record with a 2.33 GAA and a .923 SV%. Mason went 33-20-7 with a 2.29 GAA and a .916 SV% in his rookie season.

Steve Mason (Photo by PicktownGolfer – Wikimedia Commons)

The following season was a low point for Thomas. He went 17-18-8 and lost the starting job to Rask. His GAA went up to 2.10 and his SV% dipped to .915. However, the best was yet to come.

Bounce Back Regular Season in 2010-11

Thomas had hip surgery during the summer of 2010, and it seemed to rejuvenate him. He won the starting job back from Rask and won 35 games that season. He had a regular-season career-low 2.00 GAA and finished with .938 SV%, good enough to break former Buffalo Sabres standout Dominic Hasek’s record of .937. He also finished with a career-high nine shutouts.

Sergei Samsonov
Tim Thomas (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Despite Thomas’ stellar play, the Bruins ranked third in the Eastern Conference Playoffs behind the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers. They won the Northeast Division, but once the playoffs started in April, Thomas took his game to another level, which many thought impossible after such a strong regular season.

Thomas and Bruins Win the Eastern Conference

It was a long grind for Thomas and the Bruins in the 2011 Playoffs. They were pushed to three Game 7s, but came out on top all three times, including two by shutout.

After losing the first two games in the first round at home to the Montreal Canadiens, Thomas backboned two wins in Montreal with a pair of 34-save, back-to-back performances. He made 44 saves in a double-overtime win in Game 5, before making 34 more saves in a Game 7 overtime victory at the TD Garden.

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In the conference semifinals against the Flyers, the Bruins got revenge for their 2010 Playoff disappointment, when they blew a 3-0 series lead only to lose the series in seven games. Boston swept the Flyers, and Thomas made 142 saves, allowing just seven goals.

Thomas saved his best performance for the Game 7 of the Conference Final in Boston. He turned away all 24 shots from the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 1-0 victory, booking Boston’s first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 21 years.

Thomas, Bruins End 39-Year Drought

In the Stanley Cup Final against the Vancouver Canucks, the Bruins again fell behind 2-0 in the series, but as they did two months earlier against Montreal, Thomas led the comeback. Each team won their three home games before Thomas made 37 saves in Game 7 at Rogers Arena to help Boston end a 39-year drought between championships with a 4-0 win on the roadon the strength of two goals each by Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

Thomas had a 16-9 record in the playoffs with a 1.98 GAA and a crazy .940 SV%. He set a playoff record with 798 saves, including 238 in the Final against the Canucks. He became the first American-born goalie to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Thomas celebrated with his family and his hardware after finishing the series having allowed 8 goals in 7 games (Photo by Andrew Knoll).

A week after winning the Stanley Cup, Thomas won his second Vezina Trophy in three seasons at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas. Considering just a year earlier he was Rask’s backup during one of the NHL’s greatest playoff collapses, Thomas had one of the best turnaround seasons for a goalie in history. From backup to champion in just 12 months.