Thomas/By S. Bradley

VANCOUVER — Leave it to Tim Thomas to already be looking toward next year less than an hour after winning the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

“I know the game, and I know the way that it is, you know. Winning the Stanley Cup is huge. It’s the biggest accomplishment of my career thus far,” the goaltender said after he blanked Vancouver, 4-0, in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena.

“But everybody knows in this game that you have to continuously prove yourself. I’m sure if I were to, for example, start out the season bad next year that I probably, with the Cup, would have bought myself a little bit of leeway, but it won’t last forever unless I turn my game around.”

That’s where Thomas is pretty much wrong. When you end a 39-year drought, you’ve bought yourself tons of time to struggle. The Bruins are the Stanley Cup champions for the first time since the days of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Gerry Cheevers. Thomas’ name will forever be in the conversation with those greats, and his two Vezina Trophy wins (he’s going to take home this year’s for sure) combined with the Cup could help him join them in the Hall of Fame someday.

Thomas’ season, which included the best regular-season save percentage ever and the most saves in playoff and Stanley Cup Final history, impressed another guy who’s ticketed for Toronto.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that from the first exhibition game to the last game tonight, I don’t think I’ve seen goaltending like that ever,” said forward Mark Recchi. “I don’t know if we’ll ever see something like that again. It’s that special.”

As a guy who coached Martin Brodeur and Jose Theodore (in his prime) earlier in his NHL career, Bruins head coach Claude Julien can be tough to impress. Heck, Julien didn’t even have Thomas written in as his No. 1 when this season started. But Thomas made sure Julien had no other choice in the Bruins’ crease.

“But Tim Thomas in these playoffs just totally dominated. That’s the sign of a great goaltender,” said Julien. “He was on top of his game from start to finish, and especially in this final round. He was outstanding every game. I know everybody expected him to have an average game at some point. Never came. He was in the zone, focused, never let anything rattle him and never questioned his style of play. What’s happened to him right now is so deserving and so proud of him and obviously the rest of the team.”

To bounce back from being an injured back up last season to a surgically repaired superstar in champion is totally amazing. Thomas could barely put it into words.

“Last year I had a rough season,” admitted Thomas. “And this whole season I’ve been blessed and blessed more. It’s awesome.”