Commentary

Tim Thomas doesn't give B's big edge

Short series limits impact of even the best netminders

Originally Published: April 21, 2011
By Philip Myrland | Hockey Prospectus
Tim Thomas AP Photo/Gerry BroomeTim Thomas might be elite, but he doesn't give the B's much of an edge in the playoffs.

Tim Thomas is the heavy Vezina favorite and a potential nominee for the Hart Trophy as league MVP after setting the single-season record for save percentage with a mark of .938. Given that, you might think that no matter how the rest of the Boston Bruins matched up against their first-round opponent, Boston could at least count on superior goaltending.

Yet through three games, things have not gone as expected. Thomas gave up a crucial early goal in each of the first two games against the Montreal Canadiens, struggling with his rebound control, especially in Game 2, when bad caroms turned into Montreal goals. Even in the Bruins' lone win in Game 3, in which Thomas was able to hold his team in against some late Habs pressure, both Montreal goals were sharp-angle shots that slipped between Thomas' pads.

At the other end of the ice, the Habs' Carey Price -- no slouch in the regular season -- has stood tall with a .956 save percentage. A bad bounce while handling the puck led to the Bruins' winning goal in Game 3, yet Price has made a number of big saves to keep the underdog Canadiens in the series. And, through two contests, Boston's so-called advantage in goal has completely failed to materialize. But that shouldn't be too surprising.

Last year's playoffs saw all the Vezina nominees knocked out in the first round, eliminated at the hands of a journeyman (Brian Boucher) and two rookies (Jimmy Howard and Tuukka Rask). All the league's elite goalies were well into their golf seasons by the time Antti Niemi's Blackhawks beat out Michael Leighton and the Flyers in the Stanley Cup finals. Perhaps it's time to accept what the evidence overwhelmingly suggests: Having the better goalie is not an unbeatable advantage in a playoff series.