Thomas a shining example
RALEIGH, N.C. — If you must know, Nicklas Lidstrom and his band of blue-clad teammates defeated Eric Staal and his lads in the NHL All-Star Game, 11-10, yesterday at the RBC Center.
Given the nature of the event, the result, contrary to the 1,230 regular-season games played each year, was the final note of interest. A bunch of guys scored goals. The goalies waved at pucks. Slap shots weren’t spotted. Not a single check was thrown, which can only be confirmed by intense review of every frame of game tape — scratch that, on second thought — to determine whether one player ever entered another’s ZIP code, to say nothing of dishing out a hit.
Example: Would Kris Letang ever apologize, during the regular season, for bonking Jonas Hiller on the mask with a shot like he did in the second period yesterday?
The All-Star Game is what it is. It is an exhibition, built around confusing skills contests, red carpet arrivals, and awkward and repeated TV interviews of gracious ambassadors Staal and Lidstrom, good sports through it all. It is nothing resembling real hockey, the black-and-blue, missing-teeth war of attrition built around races and battles and hate.
Unlike the All-Star Game, where the good times roll, there is no room for smiles.
It’s likely that nobody was grinning more than Tim Thomas. The Boston puck stopper, once kept on the outside of the NHL by the league’s short-sighted gatekeepers, didn’t think he’d ever make a regular-season roster, much less an All-Star Game. So even though he took a tumble during Saturday’s SuperSkills competition (he was the only goalie to volunteer), earning a place on blooper clips for a lifetime, Thomas took it like a champ, the smile never leaving his face.
“Nobody else wanted to do it but Tim Thomas,’’ said Cam Ward, Thomas’s opponent during the goalie race. “Then I said, ‘Well, it’s the home crowd. I’ll just have fun with it and see what happens.’ Luckily he had a little bit of a fall in the corner and I could coast right in. So it wasn’t bad.’’
Because of his electric performance and Tuukka Rask’s slight slip, Thomas has absorbed a heavier workload for the Bruins this season than anyone projected. So as much as anyone, Thomas deserved a midseason pause to recharge his physical and mental game. Instead, he was put through the paces on and off the ice.
For Thomas, perhaps the biggest perk of the weekend was sharing time with former University of Vermont teammate Martin St. Louis. During the summer, St. Louis resides in Connecticut. Thomas floats between Massachusetts and Vermont.
“I’ve been spending as much time as I can with Marty St. Louis,’’ Thomas said. “That’s always nice. Basically, these All-Star Games are the only times we get to see each other. That’s been it the last couple years. That and getting to meet a lot of new guys is always very fun. I wish I had more time to spend to talk to them. I’m always impressed with how nice the other guys are. When you play against them, you turn them into villains a little bit in your head. It was a good experience.’’
Yesterday, Thomas performed what has become a regular All-Star Game routine. He sat for the first 40 minutes while Marc-Andre Fleury and Hiller manned the net, then took over the crease in the third period. Thomas stopped 11 of 15 shots to earn his third win.
Things got scrambly in the third period when, with Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist off for an extra skater, Staal scored his second goal at 19:26 to trim Thomas’s cushion to one.
“Going into the third, I knew I had to let in one to get the win,’’ cracked Thomas, whose team had a 7-6 lead after 40 minutes. “But then I let that one in and I couldn’t stop them from going in. There’s a lot of good players out there. My team came through for me.’’
Two years ago, the last time the All-Star Game took place (it was iced last season because of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver), it was held at the Bell Centre. The league might have its headquarters in Toronto, but the game beats the loudest and strongest in Montreal, where two languages aren’t enough to describe and capture La Belle Province’s passion for hockey.
This time, All-Star weekend took on a deep-fried Southern flavor in a region better known for college basketball. The RBC Center parking lot was stuffed with pickup trucks and Weber grills, piled high with pulled pork and barbecue chicken. Ex-Bruin and former Hurricane Aaron Ward insists that when it’s rocking, there is no rink in the league louder than the RBC Center. That might have been the case yesterday, when the locals cheered their loudest for hometown favorites Staal, Ward, and Jeff Skinner.
“I heard about how excited Raleigh was about hosting the All-Star Game,’’ Ward said. “But man, walking that red carpet, I didn’t expect it to be that big of a buzz. It’s great to see that. You talk to families, you talk to kids. The youth and minor hockey program has really continued to grow in the North Carolina area, and that’s great to see. The feedback from the fans, even from this weekend, has been tremendous.’’