Through the first two games of this thrilling Stanley Cup Final series between the Bruins and Canucks, the anticipated matchup between Vezina Trophy finalists Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas might have leaned in favor of the Vancouver goalie.
After all, Luongo, who backstopped the Canadian Olympic team to the gold medal a year ago, had been stellar, limiting the Bruins to two goals in two games. Meanwhile, Thomas gave up a winning goal with 18.5 seconds left in Game 1 and another winner just 11 seconds into overtime in Game 2. Though he saved nearly 94 percent of the shots he faced this season, an NHL record, Thomas found himself under siege for his unorthodox style.
Two games later, and everything has changed to the point that goaltending might be the Bruins’ biggest advantage in this series.
While Thomas had thrived in Games 3 and 4, allowing just one goal — and that with a 5-0 lead in Game 3 — while stopping 78 of 79 shots in the Bruins’ two home victories, his Vancouver counterpart has melted down to the point that Vancouver fans were reportedly cheering when Luongo was pulled from Game 4 down 4-0 and having given up goals on 11 of the last 44 shots he’d faced.
Thomas said the Bruins’ turnaround is due in part to their ability to focus on the moment, and not dwelling on what’s happened in the past, good or bad.
“Well, we learned the lessons throughout the season that you have to put the games that we lost behind you. I think we did a good job between Game 2 and 3 in that. I think actually we did a good job of that between Game 3 and 4. Just because we won Game 3 didn’t mean we were going to go out there and have it be a cakewalk, and it wasn’t. I think that’s one of the things we’ve done. But every time this year that we’ve faced adversity as a team, we’ve rose to the challenge. We needed to do it one more time because we were down 2-0. Now we’ve done that for two games. The challenge for us will be to keep doing that.”
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault did not speak to the struggles of his goaltender, who was benched for a game in favor of former Boston College netminder Cory Schneider during the Canucks’ first-round series with Chicago. But Vigneault said that his team’s confidence level is not shrinking.
“[Our confidence] is real good,” Vigneault said. “You know, if somebody would have told me at the beginning of the year that we could play for the Stanley Cup, best two-out-of-three series with home ice advantage in front of our fans, I would have taken those odds, I would have taken that any time to play for the big prize. That’s what we’ve got right now. We’re going to put these last two games behind us. We play real well at home. We’re going to go and feed off the energy from our fans and give it our best shot.”
Thomas saved his best shot for late in the game, when he took a whack with his stick at Canucks pest Alex Burrows as he set up in front of the net, setting off a brief scrum. Was it Thomas’s attempt at frontier justice for the unpunished chomp Burrows took of Patrice Bergeron’s finger in Game 1?
Thomas admitted he was delivering a message, though not specifically one on Bergeron’s behalf.
“They’d been [grabbing] the butt end of my stick,” Thomas said. “They did it a couple of times on the power-play in the first period also. I don’t know who it was, I was focused on the puck. That was like the third time that he’d hit my butt end on that power play. We were up, 4-0, the game was getting down toward the end, so I thought I’d give him a little love tap and let him know, I know what you’re doing, but I’m not going to let you do it forever. So that’s all that was. It was a typical battle.”