Thomas' miracle/By S. Bradley

Throughout the Bruins-Lightning Eastern Conference Final, will collaborate on Q&A features before every game with Jon Jordan 0f Beasts of the Southeast at Kukla’s Korner. Here are my answers to Jon’s latest questions prior to tomorrow’s Game 6.

JJ: Well, by my count, this series has seen a one-sided contest, an offensive showcase, a shutout, a turnover-filled comeback and now, last night’s tightly-contested thriller. In my opinion, Game 5 was the best hockey we’ve seen so far, looking at the two teams, collectively that is. All that tells me absolutely nothing, in terms of what to expect in Game 6.

The screws are really to the Lightning now, though, as they’ll have no choice but to stave off elimination at home tomorrow night – or spend a summer thinking, “What if?”

One of those “What if?” moments will surely be, “What if Steve Downie’s shot was an inch up or down when Tim Thomas made that incredible, sprawling stick save in the third period?” That’s the kind of save that nightmares are made of, at least on one side. As for the other, well, sometimes that’s the kind of play that becomes an iconic championship image, if you know what I’m saying.

Regarding Thomas, unless either of their netminders has a shutout in them (which no team in their right mind would ever be counting on at any time), the Bolts are going to have to figure out a way to get more than just one goal past the Bruins super goalie. We joked about Super Seguin earlier in the series (which we aren’t allowed to do anymore, apparently) but we all know it’s Thomas underpants that Superman truly wears (and probably the “footy” kind). The Lightning have put up goals on Thomas before, of course, but as this series goes on, Thomas seems to be getting stronger to me – and that’s a scary proposition for Tampa Bay.

Do I have that pegged right? Is Tim Thomas what I think he is – a big-time, money goaltender, who only gets better with more on the line? Aside from that, you can’t help but like the guy. The way he handled his words being spun into a guarantee after Game 4, for example, has me chuckling. But back on point: Thomas was better, I thought, last night than he was in the Game 3 shutout, coming through in the clutch for the B’s time and again. Do you agree? And, if so, what is it (aside from the super powers) that allows this guy to elevate his game as the intensity builds around him?

MK: We now know that Tim Thomas is a money goaltender. Leading up to this year, we weren’t sure. In fact, remember, we didn’t know if Thomas would ever be an NHL No. 1 ever again after he sat behind Tuukka Rask last season and then had summertime hip surgery. Prior to that, he lost in Game 7 of the playoffs – one first-round, one second round – the previous two seasons. Now we know that all the battling Thomas has done to make himself into a guy on the verge of a second Vezina Trophy in three years can translate to the ice. He’s got nothing to lose at this point after making himself into an all-world goaltender at such a young age. That shows in his ability not only to play great but to overcome distractions and disappointment when things aren’t going well. This is a guy that won a 6-5 game and was actually lauded as a star. He gives up a goal on his first shot in Game 5 and then closes the gate.

Thomas is a battler and a guy who’s thrived on proving people wrong. Now that he’s pretty much convinced everyone he’s for real, he seems to be able to relish the fact that everything from here on out is icing. So he doesn’t welt under pressure.

Thomas loves traffic and guys crashing the net. But that’s really the only thing the Lightning can do is continue to make life hard on Thomas and get a couple past. Then they can also hope that the Bruins revert to their giveaway-prone ways and that the inconsistent offense returns to a low point for Game 6.

As for the “guarantee” you and I know that was a load of bear turds. I’d like to know what any other player on either side would say if they were asked by a wise-guy TV reporter: “How do you see this series going?” If it was such a bold “guarantee” I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have laughed as loud as he did right after.

But if you and the rest of the folks in the Sunshine State want to run with the “guarantee” storyline, then heck, by all means do so. Because in that case, he backed it up.

To read more of my answers about Nathan Horton and Dennis Seidenberg, log on to Kukla’s Korner.