Posted by: mdegeorge | June 16, 2011

Thomas proves himself most valuable in Bruins’ Cup win

From early on in Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Final Game 7, the key matchup in the game became quite obvious. It wasn’t Zdeno Chara vs. Sedin (Daniel or Henrik). It wasn’t going to involve the play of a checking line against a scoring line. It wasn’t special teams. And it didn’t involve the last change.

The only matchup that deserved the undivided attention of what I hope will be a near-record number of viewers was of the only two men who had earned the right to determine the direction of this series and the fate of the Stanley Cup. At times, it seemed as if everyone else on the ice might was well be standing with their skates on the blueline, watching the two natives of Michigan duke it out.

There were no guarantees or promises, just Ryan Kesler and Tim Thomas a long way from the Wolverine State playing out what appeared to be almost a personal vendetta on ice, with the winner to get a Cup and a Conn Smythe.

In the end, it was Thomas who came out on top, leading his Bruins to a 4-0 victory and a 4-3 series win.

Offensively, it was a down series for many of the Canucks, including Kesler (just one assist in seven games), who played a large role in helping Vancouver advance to the Finals. But his line with Jeff Tambellini and Chris Higgins was by far the most active all night. Of the Canucks’ 37 shots on goal Wednesday, six came off the tape of Kesler, a game-high total. His shot total was only one less than the entire output of the Canucks’ top line of the Sedins and Alexandre Burrows. With Higgins adding four tests of Thomas and Tambellini one, the Kesler unit was the once most often at the center of action when a desperate Vancouver team got buzzing.

It seemed at times, as the Sedins were fading into the background, guarantee or not, and the batteries of the energy guys were reading low, that Kesler was on the ice almost every time the Canucks had the puck, flying down the wing and troubling Thomas’ cage with shots. Though only six found the cage, Kesler fired far more that were blocked or missed (high mostly, as was the plan of attack on Thomas). And in the absence of the Sedins – who combined for just five points in the series and were a minus-8 in Game 7, skated inside-out and run ragged by the Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand-Mark Recchi line that accounted for all four goals – Kesler was for large stretches Vancouver’s only real threat at a goal.

It was such a battle that at times it seemed the two were in their own world. But Thomas again and again definitively staked his claim to dominance. He stopped all 37 of the shots that came his way, including 16 in the third period to seal the shutout.

It was Thomas’ second shutout of the series and fourth of the playoffs. He won his third Game 7 of this postseason, including shutouts in the Stanley Cup and Eastern Conference finales. Perhaps most impressively, he became only the fourth goalie ever to pitch a shutout in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and unlike the previous three – Martin Brodeur, Gump Worsley and Johnny Bower – Thomas is the only one to do so on the road.

From the opening face-off, Thomas had a focus and comfort between the pipes that opposite number Roberto Luongo lacked. It was evident quite literally from the first chances. A long range shot by Chris Tanev was confidently looking into the gear by Thomas. Meanwhile, David Krejci drew Luongo across the net right-to-left with a short wrist shot. Luongo got over in plenty of time, but uneasily slid too far to make sure he was in the way of the wrister and froze once the puck hit him to ensure he still had it amongst his pads.

While Luongo was surrendering rebounds and navigating a congested crease – filled with both Boston net-crashers and his own backpedalling defenders – Thomas was locked in, his head darting to trace the path of each shot, on goal or wide, and following each stickhandling move Vancouver threw his way. Even the rebounds that he didn’t deaden immediately found their way back to him in short order, as if his catching glove and the puck contained opposing magnets.

It was a fitting end to a tremendous season for the Conn Smythe (and hopefully Vezina) winner. He allowed eight goals in seven games in the Finals, a stat that barring an implosion in Game 7 would have earned him postseason MVP honors win or lose. The 37-year-old native of Flint, a former Vermont Catamount who bounced around for five seasons before making his NHL debut at age 28 only to become one of the league’s dominant goalies in his late 30s, was the best player on the best team.

And that is the team that after almost four painful decades is lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup tonight.

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Responses

  1. […] night did go fairly well for you and your league, you now as far as the on-ice performance. After that it got a bit ragged. Still it was an excellent showcase of your league. There was some […]


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