Tim Thomas’ Historic Season Puts Bruins’ Goalie in Hunt for Hart Trophy

Tim Thomas' Historic Season Puts Bruins' Goalie in Hunt for Hart Trophy Editor's Note: Two years ago, the Bruins dominated the NHL's annual awards night in Las Vegas, with Tim Thomas winning the Vezina, Zdeno Chara the Norris and Claude Julien the Jack Adams. Last year, Boston came away empty handed, but this year they have a chance to make a few more trips up to the podium between Chaka Khan performances. Over the course of the All-Star break, NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will look at the chances for several Bruins to bring some hardware home from Vegas after this season. In this installment, Tim Thomas has already positioned himself as the clear favorite to win another Vezina, but could his historic season land him even more hardware?

On Sunday, Tim Thomas added another win to his record, becoming the first goalie to win three straight decisions in All-Star Game history.

Thomas is becoming accustomed to making history this year, as he has put together a season for the ages so far. He entered the All-Star break leading the league with a 1.81 goals-against average, a .945 save percentage and seven shutouts, not to mention an eye-popping 24-5-6 record.

If he can maintain that pace, and there's no signs of him slowing yet as he was 6-1-2 with a 2.05 GAA, .941 save percentage and two shutouts in January, then there's little doubt that Thomas will take home his second Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie.

But could Thomas be in line for even more hardware if he keeps this up?

No goalie has won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP since the lockout. Jose Theodore was the last netminder to win it back in 2001-02, when he went 30-24-10 with 2.11 GAA, .931 save percentage and seven shutouts for Montreal. Thomas is on pace to blow those totals away. Thomas also compares favorably to Dominik Hasek, the only other goalie to win the Hart since the days of the Original Six.

Hasek won it 1996-97 after going 37-20-10 with a 2.27 GAA, .930 save percentage and five shutouts, and won again the following year with a 33-23-13 record, 2.09 GAA, .932 save percentage and 13 shutouts. Prior to Hasek, the last goalie to win the award was Jacques Plante back in 1962.

There were 10 second-place finishes for goalies between Plante and Hasek, with the likes of Ed Giacomin (1967), Tony Esposito (1970), Ken Dryden (1972), Bernie Parent (1974), Rogie Vachon (1975), Mike Liut (1981), Pete Peeters (1983), Grant Fuhr (1988), Patrick Roy (1992) and Hasek himself in 1994 all falling just short.

Vancouver's Roberto Luongo is the only netminder to make a serious run at it since the lockout, finishing second to Sidney Crosby in 2007 despite a 47-22-6 record, 2.29 GAA, .921 save percentage and five shutouts.

The owners' lockout that cancelled the 2004-05 season is an obvious dividing line, as the league returned to action with a number of rules changes designed to open up the ice and increase offense. Goalies didn't exactly benefit from the tweaks, and only Tuukka Rask last year and Minnesota's Nicklas Backstrom in 2006-07 have finished the season with a GAA under 2.00 since then, with each of them squeaking under at 1.97.

That gives an indication of just how remarkable Thomas' 1.81 this late in the season truly is, and his save percentage is even more impressive. Since the lockout, only Rask last year at .931 and Thomas himself at .933 in 2008-09 have finished the year at .930 or above. This year, Nashville's Pekka Rinne is a distant second in that category at .929.

Thomas will have to overcome a bias against goalies in the Hart voting and will face stiff competition from skaters having huge seasons like Steven Stamkos and the Sedin twins, but he will benefit from crosby's extended absence due to a concussion and Alex Ovechkin having a subpar season. And what Thomas has done through the first four months of the season is unprecedented in this era. If he continues it for another two-and-a-half months, there should be little doubt about his Hart qualifications. After all, where would the Bruins be without Thomas this year, as he has 24 of the team's 28 wins?

It's all the more amazing considering where Thomas was a year ago. After winning the Vezina in 2009, Thomas went just 17-18-8 with a 2.56 GAA and .915 save percentage last year, losing the starting job to Rask. After offseason hip surgery, it seemed unlikely he'd win back the No. 1 spot in Boston's goaltending tandem, let alone emerge as the No. 1 goalie in the world.

"It's quite an acknowledgement to be in an All-Star Game," Thomas said before leaving for the game in Raleigh. "To get back to an All-Star Game after all the adversity last year, it's special to me.

"All these experiences, they were fairytales, far off fairytales until the past couple of years," Thomas added. "Being part of these experiences now is something I'm going to try to soak in, try to enjoy."

Thomas insists he isn't shocked by his success, or even the historic numbers he's putting up. He's quick to point to some of the stats he compiled in Finland, where he was 13-4-1 with a 1.62 GAA in his first season overseas in 1998-99, then went 9-0 with a 1.52 GAA in the playoffs. Or his final year there during the lockout, when he had 15 shutouts and 1.58 GAA in 54 games.

"I have to reference the non-NHL because I haven't been in the NHL all that long," Thomas said. "At times this season I've felt better than I've ever felt in the NHL, [I've felt] as confident and as good about my game as I have in any point in my NHL career, but there has been similar times in the past [in other leagues]."

Thomas was named the MVP of the Finnish Elite League after that 2004-05 season. If he maintains this pace for the rest of the current campaign, he could very well have a Hart Trophy to put up on his mantel as well.

On Saturday, Zdeno Chara's quest for his second Norris Trophy in three years was examined.

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