Bruins-Flyers: Why History Won’t Repeat Itself

Tim Thomas is the reason the Bruins won't repeat last year's collapse. (Photo from Game Two of Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against Philadelphia Flyers; by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

The Celtics look old: they just can’t hang with Miami Heat’s run-and-gun offense.

The Red Sox are looking better, but they still won’t be playing meaningful baseball for two months.

The New England Patriots are still four months away from their season not happening. No matter what the courts rule regarding the lockout, you still have a staring contest between the owners, who don’t want the NFLPA to become as strong as the MLBPA, and the players, whose union leaders can’t look weak on their first collective bargaining agreement. Neither side can walk away, and nobody will win.

No basketball. No baseball. No football. So what am I gonna write about? That’s right: the Boston Cannons.

Just kidding, let’s talk about the Bruins.

I gotta say, this Bruins postseason has been the most entertaining and exciting hockey I have ever seen. When a game has got you holding your breath with every shot, it’s doing something really well. With each subsequent line-change in overtime, I find myself edging more and more off my couch. That way, as I watch overtime goal after overtime goal, I can explode out of my seat all the faster.

I’ve enjoyed these games far more than the Celtics postseason games, and its not just because of the wins. This is exciting hockey. This I get.

And I also get the trepidation true Bruins fans are feeling right now. When your team doesn’t win for a long time, and it doesn’t establish an aura of dominance (see: Patriots), you always fear your team’s newfound success will quickly revert to their well-established incompetence. And having gotten a taste of the sweet life, the loss becomes all the more bitter. That’s what made the 2003 ALCS loss to the Yankees so painful, but playoff losses since 2004 (and especially since 2007) more tolerable.

Tennyson might be right: ’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. But the latter option is way easier.

So you Bruins fans don’t allow yourselves to feel too much hope for this team. Not yet. They haven’t done enough to deserve that hope. Even now, just a game away from the Eastern Conference Finals and the Tampa Bay Lightning (who the Bruins went 3-1 against this season), you’re all worried. Last year’s collapse against these same Philadelphia Flyers still sloshes in your belly, churning up bile with every recollection.

Don’t worry, Bruins fans: it’s not gonna happen again. And it’s not because of the overwhelmingly high statistical likelihood the Bruins will win one of the next four. It’s not because this Flyers team is so clearly inferior to last year’s, lacking even a competent (let alone good) goalie or any respectable power play offense. It’s not even because this Bruins offense, which in 10 games has scored nearly as many goals (32) as last year’s Bruins scored in 13 (36), is so much deeper.

That stuff all helps. But the Bruins are going to win because of one man: Tim Thomas.

Tim Thomas is the best goalie in the NHL. He set an NHL record with a season-save-percentage of .938. To be clear: no goalie has ever saved that high a percentage of shots on goal before. He made nearly 1,700 saves this year, and he led the league in goals-against per game (2.00).

This was far and away Thomas’s best season with the Bruins, and his dominance has continued in the postseason. In the Bruins’ pivotal Game-Five victory over the Montreal Canadiens (giving them a 3-2 series lead), Thomas made 44 saves, including 19 with the game tied 3-3 in the final 35 minutes, which stretched from six minutes left in regulation to nine minutes gone in the second overtime. He finished the series with a .925 save percentage and a 2.25 GAA.

Pretty good numbers. Against the Flyers, he’s been even better.

In the Bruins’ Game-Two victory (which gave Boston an uber-deflating road sweep), Thomas stopped a ridiculous 52 shots, including 46 in a row. Thomas played perfect hockey for 64 minutes in that game. In three games against the Flyers, he’s saving 95.2 percent of shots and allowing just 1.86 goals a game.

Thomas is 37. He knows his time is running out. He wants a championship before he retires, and he will do whatever it takes to get one.

Fans and the media can blame whatever they want for last year’s meltdown, but the reality is that Tuukka Rask just choked. Rask gave up 4+ goals in three of the Bruins’ final four losses. I don’t know the numbers, but I’d guess that a goalie who gives up four goals is probably gonna lose 75 percent of the time, maybe more. The offense did the best it could, but Rask simply couldn’t protect the net anymore. He had a great regular season (22 wins including five shutouts, .931 save percentage, 1.97 GAA in 45 games), but in 13 playoff games he allowed at least three goals seven times. That’s why the Bruins lost.

Rask had a GAA of nearly 3.6 in his final four playoff games last year. Thomas’s GAA is half that. Thomas will make sure the Bruins win. And he has the veteran mentality to keep it going all the way to the Stanley Cup.

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