WILMINGTON, Mass. – Despite a six-year age difference, Tim Thomas and Buffalo’s Ryan Miller share many things in common.
They’re both from Michigan, they won a silver medal with Team USA at February’s Olympics in Vancouver, they’re active in making goalies’ voices heard on league matters and they love to read science fiction novels.
However, heading in Monday night’s probable matchup between the two American puck-stoppers at TD Garden, Thomas couldn’t be coming at the game from a more different angle than Miller.
Miller, the NHL leader in save percentage, has won four of his last five outings. His Sabres are in first place in the Northeast Division and, despite a mini slump after the rigors of the Olympics, the 29-year-old has been dominant from Day One this season and is the odds-on favorite for the Vezina Trophy (with some Hart consideration mixed in).
On the other side of the rink, Thomas is riding the momentum of a shutout Saturday in his first start in a couple weeks. But Thomas, last year’s leader in both save percentage and goals-against average, has had strong games before. He won his first two games out of the Olympic break, but then lost two in a row. He beat Ottawa 4-1 in January before losing two straight, and previously he beat San Jose and then lost six in a row. His longest winning streak this season is just three games.
Thomas’ pursuit of a level of consistency similar to the one he reached during his Vezina-winning campaign of a year ago hasn’t gone as he would like. If head coach Claude Julien follows his pattern of allowing a goaltender that earns points in the standings to get the next start, Thomas should get another chance to turn an impressive outing into a stretch of success Monday.
“I’m not even going to really dwell on that topic because I don’t want to think about it,” said Thomas after practice this morning at Ristuccia Arena. “If you start thinking about it, then I think it makes it more difficult. All I’ve got to do is go play. All I’ve got to do is go play the same game that I played (Saturday) when I play again. That’s the way I’m going to look at it and keep it simple.”
Thomas makes it a point to never look at any game as a match-up between him and the opposing goaltender. It’s always Thomas vs. the other team’s shooters. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t watch other goaltenders, particularly on television on off nights, to check out their moves and marvel at their accomplishments.
So Miller’s awesome year hasn’t escaped Thomas’ glance.
“He’s at that age where goalies are really going to start hitting their peak, and it’s showing,” said Thomas about Miller, who is second to Bruins netminder in GAA. “And he’s a slight-frame guy, so it probably took him a couple years to figure out what he needs to do to get his body through a long season like this and still have it somewhat intact. So far he’s put that together.”
While hasn’t been the same suffocating netminder he was last year, Thomas has at least enjoyed good health since a brief absence earlier in the year with an undisclosed injury. That hasn’t changed even with the rigors of a game like Saturday’s mixing in among a long stretch of games watching from the bench.
“I haven’t played a lot of games recently, so I’m not really used to coming to a practice the day after a game. (I feel) not bad at all, but just a little bit leg weary. But as far as other bumps and bruises, I got out of that game scot free,” he said.
A scot-free week, in terms of goals against and injury, from Thomas would be just what the Bruins need to finish the regular season strong. And then Miller and Thomas could add “playoff goaltender 2010” to their list of similarities.