By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON While many of the players from the Bruins and Canucks will be dreaming up their ultimate Stanley Cup scenario with the oversized chalice finally in the house for what might be the Canucks' championship clincher in Game 6, Bruins goalie Tim Thomas will have his mind in a far away place.
Like the frozen ponds of hardscrabble Flint, Michigan in the 1980s, where Thomas grew up playing hockey outside with his buddies and developing that famous competitive streak that still courses through his veins.
The 37-year-old goaltender has allowed only six goals in five Stanley Cup Final games, and is sporting one of the lowest goals against average in Cup Finals history despite his team being down 3-2 in the series. He says one of the keys to his success is putting his mind back to the same place he was mentally while playing against the neighborhood kids in Michigan before the sun went down every day in the winter.
Thomas was asked how he manages to focus with millions and millions of hockey fans watching his every move, and he quickly replied that those millions are the first thing he eliminates every time he straps on the equipment. There wasnt any pressure on Thomas as a young kid learning how to play the goalie position, and the wide smile on his face in the third period of Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning told you he was feeling no pressure whatsoever with his teams fate on the line.
There are only 12 players out on the ice at any given time, max, and the ice surface is the same size, said Thomas, who leads all NHL playoff goalies with the 2.07 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. There is only one puck in play at all times and I think you just focus on the nuances of the game.
You dont pretend that the fans arent there, but it shouldnt matter whether you have a packed building or youre playing in an empty rink. Youre focus is on the game and playing the game. You try to get the same focus that you had as a kid when you were out playing on the pond, and youre really just enjoying the game. If you approach it like that it can be really fun.
Thats got to be one of the really scary propositions for the Canucks headed into a potential Game 6 buzz saw after they were pounded 12-1 in the last two games at TD Garden. Vancouver will be dealing with some very real pressure hoping to avoid a Game 7 scenario where anything could happen. On top of it all, Thomas is dominating the postseason just as thoroughly as he did the regular season as the best goaltender in the NHL this season.
Coach Claude Julien surveyed his goaltender and the rest of his players in the room leading up to their biggest game of the season their last game of the year at TD Garden regardless of what happens and felt like the Bruins would adapt the same attitude as Thomas.
I dont think anybody in that dressing room is panicking, said Julien. Were focused. We understand the situation. When youve been through it quite a few times, you certainly know how to deal with it a lot better. Weve certainly been through it enough.
The Bruins have won 9 of their last 10 at TD Garden in the playoffs after struggling on home ice during the regular season, and Julien said that its largely the result of a very the team playing some good hockey in Boston during March and April.
Right near the end of the year we were pleased with our road record, but we talked about establishing ourselves as a better home team, said Julien. That was the last month-and-a-half or so. We started doing that the regular home season and weve carried that into the playoffs. So if there is a good time to be good at home, its certainly tomorrow. We intend to keep that streak going.
Shane Hnidy was noticeably physical with Tyler Seguin in the corners during battle drills at Sunday practice, and prompted more than one animated response from the 19-year-old as the players battled during a drill below the blue line. Seguin recognized after practice that the 35-year-old veteran defenseman was simply trying to get a little more fight out of the young forward.
Its one of those veteran tricks that you learn from out there, I guess, said Seguin when asked what it was all about.
Bruins pest Brad Marchand and close to half of the Bruins were sporting Nose Face Killah T-shirts provided by Barstool Sports after practice on Sunday, and Marchand wore his during an NBC interview that aired on Sunday afternoon.
Thomas was presented with an interesting nugget of information during the media availability on Sunday afternoon: Thomas and Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer Dryden have both graduated from college hockey and worked this deeply into a Stanley Cup Final appearance after their collegiate careers.
Its an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as Ken Dryden, said Thomas. He played at Cornell, the same league that I played college hockey at UVM. When I was in college I remember looking at what hed accomplished and his stats. Those were stats that I was gunning for to try and reach in college he had such a good collegiate career.
I read his book either when I was in college or the year after I was out of college and gained some insight from that. I would like to hope I can finish it off and get the Cup just like he did too.
The smirk couldnt have been any plainer on Patrice Bergerons face when he was asked about Roberto Luongos complaints that he hasnt been complimented by Tim Thomas during the Stanley Cup Final series while the Canucks goaltender has pumped his tires on numerous times.
The answer was very neutral, of course, but the message behind the message couldnt have been any clearer: The Bruins are pretty amused at the daily soap opera that has become Luongo putting his foot in his mouth.
Im trying to stay out of that, said Bergeron. Im not the guy thats going to give you much juice right now. Im worrying about myself and Im worrying about the Bruins.
Bergeron, David Krejci and Milan Lucic comprised the forward spots down low on Bostons first power play unit during Sunday practice, and both Michael Ryder and Seguin split time operating off the half-wall with Mark Recchi and Rich Peverley manning the other two units. Dennis Seidenberg and Tomas Kaberle were the first defensemen points on the top power play unit, and Zdeno Chara and Andrew Ference manned the second unit.
Ryan Kesler didnt practice with the Canucks as he continues to be hampered by unspecified injury. The Vancouver Province is listing the problem as a groin strain, but whatever it is has truly slowed down to one assist and a minus-3 in five games along with whopping 33 penalty minutes worth of frustration. The injury appeared to be aggravated after Johnny Boychuk hit Kesler in Game 2.
Hes fine, said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. Thats all. Keep it day-to-day.
The Bruins have been the Stanley Cup Finals 17 times, but have never played a Game 7.