WILMINGTON, Mass. — Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien still remembers the first time goaltender Tim Thomas really made an impression. It was early in the coach’s tenure with Boston and the team was going through some drills that normally should be difficult on a netminder.
“I still remember that one day when we were trying to get our team to score more and we did those 3-on-0s and you had to stay until you scored and at one point I had to blow the whistle because Timmy wasn’t letting them score. So I called, ‘Uncle,’” said Julien today after the Bruins practiced at Ristuccia Arena. “That just showed me his competitiveness. He was diving everywhere and was determined not to let them score.”
Thomas today found out what type of impression he made this season on the 30 general managers of the NHL when it was announced that the 35-year-old is a finalist for this year’s Vezina Trophy. The Vezina is voted on by the GMs at the conclusion of the regular season and it goes to the league’s best goaltender.
Niklas Backstrom of Minnesota and Steve Mason of Columbus are the other finalists. The winner will be announced June 18 in Las Vegas as part of the NHL Awards ceremony.
“It’s quite an honor. Just breaking into the NHL a few years ago, you’re always trying to make your goals bigger but you want to make them reasonable. You know, one step at a time,” said Thomas, who returned to practice after missing the Bruins’ prior two sessions because of the flu. “Being a Vezina finalist was always off my radar. I think as the year went on this year I realized that there might be a chance. But it’s quite an honor.”
Thomas led the NHL in goals-against average (2.10) and save percentage (.933) during the regular season. He also set a career high for wins (36) and shared the Jennings Trophy (fewest goals allowed) with goaltending partner Manny Fernandez.
“He had a great year and played, obviously, extremely well for us,” said defenseman Dennis Wideman. “And hopefully he wins. He deserves that. He personally had a great year for us — more so to the starting months of the season. It was a barrage (of shots) and the goalies played really well. It’s great see.”
Added Julien: “I think it’s obviously warranted. I think he deserves it and hopefully he gets it. So it’s just one of those things that he’s done enough for this team and he certainly deserves the recognition.”
With the flu bug mostly conquered, Thomas can turn his attention back to the postseason after winning his first NHL playoff series. The Bruins, who haven’t played since completing their sweep of Montreal last Wednesday, still don’t know their second-round opponent’s identity — it could be Carolina, New York or Pittsburgh — but Thomas is ready for the on-ice activity to become even more heated.
“Intensity-wise, it’ll probably be amped up another level. Intensity-wise, maybe not dirty-wise, because the Montreal series tend to have that reputation,” said Thomas, who led Boston to the four-game sweep with a 1.50 GAA and .946 save percentage. “So I expect the intensity to be ramped up and obviously it’s going to be a more difficult series than the first series ended up being.”
A two-time All-Star and now a finalist for one of the most prestigious awards in the NHL, Thomas is no longer flying under the radar. Expectations will now be higher for the duration of his career, but he’s not going to let the pressure get to him.
“There’s always some type of pressure, whether it’s battling for jobs and then people expecting it out of you — whatever. There’s always some sort of pressure,” he said. “So I really don’t think it makes that much of a difference. The pressure all depends on how you use it because if you use it in a positive way it can be a good thing.”