Last year the former Vezina winner had lost his starting spot to Tuukka Rask and eventually needed to undergo offseason hip surgery.
"I didn't know for sure that I'd ever be able to play the way I wanted to again," Thomas said. "By the time I knew what was going on in my hip, I didn't know if I'd ever get back to the level that I wanted to be at."
Thomas didn't return to his previous level of play. He raised it even beyond his Vezina campaign of 2008-09. And on Saturday, after stopping 31 of the 32 shots he faced in a 3-1 win over Ottawa, Thomas assured himself of finishing the season at a level no other NHL goalie has ever reached.
Thomas raised his save percentage to .9382, bettering the mark of .3666 set by Dominik Hasek in 1998-99. Technically, Thomas still hasn't set the record as the Bruins have one more game Sunday in New Jersey. But Rask is scheduled to start that game and Saturday's showing should be Thomas' final appearance until the playoffs.
"To be completely honest, I had a hard time getting it off my mind over the past week or so," Thomas said of the record chase. "I mentally prepared myself yesterday not to think about that and to play, that I think I'm still in that mode a little bit. It hasn't affected me; it hasn't set in yet. Part of that's because we still have business to take care of tomorrow."
Thomas has more than just a sparkling save percentage in common with Hasek. Both were goalies who had to wait for their chance at NHL stardom, and both achieved it with their own unique netminding style.
"Dominik Hasek was a hero of mine back when I was in college," said Thomas, who played at the University of Vermont. "[He was] a guy who played unconventional and had a ton of success. And even at college age I was already labeled as somebody with my style that I couldn't do it at the next level. And so he was an inspiration."
Thomas was inspired by Hasek, but didn't try to pattern his game after the Czech netminder.
"I certainly watched him when I was in college and was trying to pick things up off of him," Thomas said. "I didn't try to emulate my style after him. I still have my own style. But I did see some of the things that he does that I thought I could apply to my game and probably over the years it became part of my game too."
Now Thomas' game is good enough to knock Hasek out of the record books in what Thomas feels is the most important goaltending stat.
"I think it's the most reflective overall, although still not a perfect number because a lot of it depends on quality of shots obviously and this and that," Thomas said. "But overall it's probably the best individual stat for a goalie.
"Well you still look at goals-against average, but if a goalie that's averaged 25 shots against per game versus a goalie who's averaging 35, I'm just picking out numbers out of air, that's going to affect the goals against," Thomas added. "So I mean like I said the save percentage number might not be perfect but it's about the fairest number for individual goalie stats."
But Thomas is also quick to point out that while save percentage is an individual stat, it takes a lot more than just one individual to put up a save percentage like he has this season.
"That number there though is a testament to the team in front of me and the way that they battled for me all year long, defensemen and forwards," Thomas said, singling out captain Zdeno Chara for particular praise. "It also reflects probably one of the best, if not the best defenseman in the world out there in front of me that I think should be getting a little bit more Norris talk than at least I've heard. Maybe he is, I don't know. I don't hear that much. But he's been stellar for us all year playing against the top players on every team, night in and night out and just doing a great job. So that number is the team number."
Bruins coach Claude Julien agreed, and was happy for both Thomas and the team that his goalie was able to get the record he so coveted.
"He's had a good year for us and I think deep down it seemed to matter to him so it was important for the rest of our team to help him through it and play as best as they could," Julien said. "He made some great saves again tonight for us, but I think, for the rest of the team, I think they really wanted him to get that, so it's done and over and we can turn the page to move on."
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