So it was only fitting that at the final NHL function of the season, the Bruins netminder found himself being hemmed in on both sides one last time. But this time he certainly didn't mind being crowded, as Thomas addressed the media after the 2011 NHL Awards at the Palms Hotel with a pair of huge trophies perched on either side of him.
"I've been seeing this one for a few days, so I'm more familiar with it," Thomas said, indicating the Conn Smythe Trophy to his right, before turning to the Vezina Trophy on his left. "This one I hadn't seen in a couple years, so I was just kind of checking it out and remembering what it looked like. I think it'll set in this summer sometime when I see pictures of myself next to something like this, but it hasn't set in yet.
"The Stanley Cup is the biggest goal," Thomas added. "Since we won that, my mind has been focusing on that one, not the individual awards."
But the individual awards came anyway. The first came last week when he won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP and then Wednesday at the Palms when he won his second Vezina in the last three years as the league's top goalie in the regular season.
Thomas led the NHL with a 2.00 GAA and a record .938 save percentage in the regular season, then amazingly improved those numbers to a 1.98 GAA and a .940 save percentage in the playoffs. Those numbers impressed even the guys he beat out for the honor.
"He had an unreal year, regular season and playoffs," said Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, who finished third in the voting behind Thomas and Nashville's Pekka Rinne. "I think he's well deserving of the trophy. It's unbelievable what he's been through, not only in his career but the surgery he had, and to be able to come back and play the way he did is spectacular."
Thomas was a runaway winner in the Vezina voting, finishing with 104 points and 17 first-place votes from the league's general managers. Rinne was second with 84 points and six first-place votes and Luongo third with 33 points and three first-place votes.
Thomas accomplished all he did this year after losing his starting job to Tuukka Rask last season as he struggled through a hip injury that required surgery over the summer. Overcoming those health concerns helped make this Vezina win every bit as special as his first one after the 2008-09 season.
"The first time was pretty special because of how far I'd come," Thomas said. "It looked like an unattainable award. But having said that, I think this one is just as special, just in a different way. I think because of all I've been through, I could win this six times and every time would be just as special."
Thomas might just win a few more times. Despite being 37, he doesn't plan on slowing down anytime soon.
"The way I feel I still have many good years ahead of me," Thomas said. "The goal is always to get better. I think that should be everybody's approach in life to whatever it is they choose to do. I'd like to see what I can do to raise the bar higher and push myself to the limit."
He already pushed himself beyond the limits of what he thought he could endure last summer to get back in shape after the surgery.
"Last summer going through the work that it took to get myself to the level that I wanted to be at, that was a lot of hard work," Thomas said. "I was doing three workouts a day. I was pretty much exhausted all the time because I knew that's what it would take. But it's all paid off. It's a story of if you put in the work, it will pay off."
On the ice, Thomas goes about that work differently than just about any other goalie. He's been criticized at times for his unorthodox style, but there's no denying the results.
"I think every goalie has to find their own style," Thomas said. "I don't think that my style is the perfect style, that's for sure. But it works for me. You've got to take the tools you have and make it work. I'm kind of like the redneck of goaltending that duct tapes everything together to fix it. But if you give a redneck a job and they're going to use whatever tools they have on hand and they're going to get the job done. That's the way I approach goaltending."
That approach put Thomas in rare company, as he's the first goalie to win the Vezina, Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup in the same year since Philadelphia's Bernie Parent did it in 1974 and 1975. The fact that Parent did it twice in a row just gives Thomas a new goal to chase next season.
"He did it two years in a row," Thomas said. "It's amazing that he did it two years in a row. We're just coming off winning the Cup and it's been crazy and I haven't had time to stop and think. I would love to be able to accomplish something like that, but so many things have to fall into place. I bet Bernie would agree that it takes a unique set of circumstances to be able to win that two years in a row.
"Of course I'm going to try something similar," Thomas added. "But I haven't set my goals for next year yet."
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