BOSTON -- Despite giving up only four goals in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final, there were questions as to whether Tim Thomas's aggressive style of goaltending would prevent the Bruins from winning the Cup. Two games later, the Final has a whole new dynamic -- and Thomas is the major catalyst.
That catalyst thing worked in reverse in the first two Boston losses in Vancouver. Both game-winning goals may have been aided by Thomas's style of play.
Game 1's winner, scored by Raffi Torres with 18.5 seconds left, went into a wide-open net once Torres received a pass from Jannik Hansen -- partly because Thomas came well out of his crease to try to cut off the angle of a Hansen shot. Thomas also took some heat on Alexandre Burrows' overtime winner in Game 2. Burrows came down left wing, froze Thomas with a fake shot, then swooped around the net and slid the puck into the wide-open cage.
But in Games 3 and 4 in Boston, things changed for Thomas, as his aggressive style stymied the Canucks. The NHL's regular-season champs managed just one goal on 79 shots in 120 minutes against Thomas, and Canucks coach Alain Vigneault admits his unique style is giving Vancouver trouble.
"He's one of the best goalies in the League," Vigneault said after Boston's 4-0 win in Game 4 on Wednesday night that evened the series at two wins each. "He plays his own style, and he's playing it well right now -- giving his team a real good chance to win."
Thomas didn't need an inordinate number of his trademark floppy saves needed to win back-to-back games in three days at TD Garden. That's because he was so effective in cutting off the shooters' angles with his aggressive style.
Giving up just five goals in four Cup Final games is an excellent stretch for a goaltender. Yet Thomas is quick to say this isn't the only time he's felt like he's been on such a roll.
Consistency is the key for any goaltender when he is playing well, and that is exactly what Thomas is looking for. "I have felt so good in the Final, so far, and I'm just going to keep doing the same things I've been doing -- try to have the same success that I've had," he said.
Thomas' aggressive style extends beyond his efforts to keep the puck out of the net. The 37-year-old hasn't shied away from getting involved with the post-whistle scrums that have become more and more frequent as the series has progressed.
Thomas has even looked like a defenseman at times getting involved in the physical part of the game. As Henrik Sedin tried to corral a puck just in front of the Bruins' net late in Game 3, Thomas jabbed at Sedin with his arm and knocked him to the ice. He was credited with a hit, the first by a goaltender in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov in 2007.
The physical play continued for Thomas in Game 4. With the score 4-0 late in the third period, Thomas went after Burrows after the pesky forward whacked his stick away.
"They've been getting the butt end of my stick. Actually they did a couple of times on the power play in the first period," Thomas said. "That was like the third time [Burrows] had hit the butt-end on that power play. I thought I would give him a little love tap to let him I know I know what you're doing but I'm not going to let you do it forever."
Thomas went on to describe the play as a "typical battle." He got two minutes for slashing and Burrows was sent to the box for cross-checking.
Four days after Thomas sprinted off the ice after allowing Burrows' OT goal in Game 2, he was at the center of a pile of black-and-gold Bruins celebrating his Game 4 shutout. A couple of more performances like the one he put up Wednesday would give the Bruins all the confidence they to bring the Stanley Cup back to Boston for the first time since 1972.