Bruins

Thomas, Roloson took roads less traveled

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Thomas, Roloson took roads less traveled

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON To understand the upcoming battle between 37-year-old Tim Thomas and 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson in the Eastern Conference finals, the best place to turn is the past.

The two goalies have climbed, scratched and clawed their way to the top of their profession by defying the odds in their own respective ways. It makes them the most fascinating matchup in the upcoming series between the Bruins and the Lightning.

Thomas was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques 217th overall in 1994, but never got much of a shot in that organization. Roloson went undrafted before hitting Hockey East with UMass-Lowell in 1990 as a 21-year-old. Both have always shown an unwillingness to surrender to self-doubt or despair when things werent going well . . . which was most of the time early in their careers.

When a person has that strong of a will theyre going to find their place, and Thomas has done that, said University of Vermont goalie coach Terry Lovelette, who worked with Thomas at UVM. Its really impressive to see how long he held with it, how hard he worked for it and how absolutely wonderful it is that hes having the success hes experiencing right now. Because he certainly deserved it.

Brian DAccord was in charge of the Bruins' goaltenders during the Robbie Ftorek coaching era in Boston, and he vividly remembers his first contact with Thomas. It was 2001-02, and Thomas was in camp with fellow goalies Byron Dafoe and John Grahame.

Thomas outplayed both of them in the exhibition season, but it didn't matter. They had guaranteed contracts; Thomas didn't. Plus, the Bruins felt their goalie of the future -- Andrew Raycroft -- was waiting in the wings.

But when he got the inevitable word that he was being sent to Providence, Thomas didn't take the news without a fight.

It came down to the last day of camp," recalled D'Accord. "Dafoe was on the books for 3.1 million and Grahame was on the books for about 730,000, so there really wasnt any chance for Thomas to make the team even though he played really well. I used to go on the ice 40 minutes early with the goalies. Then-general manager Mike OConnell and Robbie Ftorek were up in the office giving guys the bad news, and they hadnt got to Timmy yet.

I walk into the locker room and theres Tim Thomas, half-dressed. I know that hes supposed to be cut and sent to Providence because he wasnt on the roster for practice. I didnt know what to do, so I asked him if hed checked in with anybody that morning.

"He looked at me and said, Hey, if they want to cut me then they can drag my ass off the ice.

"So I said Okay, lets go then! They put him on the roster for practice and then let him go afterwards.

Roloson has a similar story. When he was playing Junior 'B' hockey in Ontario, the only college team interested in him was Division III Plattsburgh State.

UMass-Lowell goaltending coach Mike Geragosian happened onto Roloson after losing a goalie prospect named Jeff Levy to the University of New Hampshire. Geragosian and then-Lowell assistant coach Blais McDonald traveled to a small Ontario town just north of Niagara Falls to watch Roloson, who was in his final year of junior eligibility.

After the first period, Geragosian -- now the goaltending coach at Boston University -- slipped a note to McDonald and told him not to open it until after the game.

Roloson stood on his head with a 54-save performance that forced the game into overtime. But when his team lost, he shattered his stick over the crossbar in a fit of pique.

Thats when I told Blais he could open up the note, said Geragosian.

The note read: If Roloson makes 50-something saves and snaps his stick over the crossbar in overtime, then this is our guy.

"So we decided then and there this kid was coming to Lowell," said Geragosian.

That consolation prize turned into an All-American goaltender.

You could see he had that willingness to work and that desire to compete, and the rest was history once he got there," said Geragosian. "He just kept getting better and better as he gained confidence and determination at Lowell.

Still, the road to this year's Eastern Conference semifinals wasn't smooth and straight for either of them. Tampa Bay is Roloson's sixth organization, and he didn't establish himself as a No. 1 NHL goalie until he was in his 30s. Thomas spent parts of four seasons playing in Europe, and was with the P-Bruins as recently as 2005-06 (at the age of 31). He's been Boston's top goalie since 2006-07, but many were clamoring for Tuukka Rask to get his job last season.

But both perservered. Its that unwillingness to surrender and unflagging belief in themselves that have pushed both Thomas and Roloson onward and upward in their careers, and its that little flicker of fire that keeps them going now at their advanced ages.

Fast-forward to the present.

Roloson arrived in Tampa Bay in the middle of the season after the Lightning had floundered badly with a combustible Mike SmithDan Ellis goaltending tandem.

Roloson has stabilized their team." said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "I think that is a pretty fair statement to make . . . He has brought some stability to that hockey club, and he has got some experience.

"He led his Edmonton team to the finals in 2005-06, although he got injured in that last series. (Roloson was hurt in the first game and didn't play again as the Oilers fell to the Carolina Hurricanes.) But hes certainly capable of doing that again.

As for Thomas, his Vezina-caliber regular season has continued into the postseason.

The Bruins have the No. 1 goaltender in the league, and I think in the end we have the same enigma as everybody else, said Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher. Nobody can beat this guy. Were no different. Its going to be extremely difficult. Hes shown he was the best in the regular season, and now in the playoffs hes shown he same. So theres a consistency there. I dont plan on him giving us any freebies whatsoever.

In the playoffs, there hasn't been a dime's worth of difference between them. They have identical 8-3 won-loss records. Roloson leads all playoff goalies with a .941 save percentage and a 2.01 goals-against average; Thomas is second in both categories at .937 and 2.03.

The pictures -- both this season and over their careers -- are so similar that Thomas feels a kinship for Roloson . . . even though their paths have never crossed more than a few games playedagainst each otherand they've neverspoken.

"The reason Roloson has been able to have an NHL career for so long is that hes been able to adapt his game to the way the NHL game has developed, said Thomas. Im along those similar lines. We both learned real technique at an older age, and for him maybe it was even at a little bit of an older age than I did.

For a while there he developed himself into a real butterfly goalie when thats what the NHL called for, and now its opened back up and hes had to adapt. Hes been able to do that, too.

Its been a long, long road for both. But that road may just deliver one of them to a Stanley Cup championship.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

NHL Power Rankings: Bubble starting to burst for Cinderella teams

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NHL Power Rankings: Bubble starting to burst for Cinderella teams

The bubble is beginning to burst for some of the Cinderella teams out of the starting gate around the NHL. The Kings have lost four games in a row and look like the offense is again becoming a problem, the Rangers are back to losing after an extended winning streak, and both the Flyers and Stars have dropped three games in a row after decent starts to their seasons amid low expectations.

There are still a few other teams like the New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights, among others, that are bucking expectations and defying convention thus far. It will take a bit more sustained success before people are truly ready to buy in on them this season. Until that happens they remain a nice little story among the true contenders vying for league dominance.  

Anyway, without further ado here are this week’s preseason power rankings:

1.  Tampa Bay Lightning (regular season record: 15-2-2, rank last week: 2) – The Bolts are on another five-game winning streak, and continue to serve notice that they were the sorta new, sorta old sheriff in the Eastern Conference. First in the NHL in goals scored, second in goals against and second in power play is some pretty amazing performance.

2.  St. Louis Blues (14-5-1, rank last week: 1) – Brayden Schenn and Jordan Schwartz are the top two scorers for a Blues team that’s fought their way to the top of the Central Division. While that’s a great story in St. Louis, it does raise questions about how long they can sustain that over the course of a full hockey season.

3.  Winnipeg Jets (11-4-3, rank last week: 5) – Three wins in a row and one regulation loss in the last 10 games for a Jets team that seems to finally be getting it. Mark Schiefele has really become a difference-maker in Winnipeg.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (13-7-0, rank last week: 6) – The Maple Leafs have won five games in a row without Auston Matthews, which is a pretty impressive feat for such a young group. It does appear like it could also be a season of streaks for a Toronto club that’s shown both extremes already this season.

5. New Jersey Devils (11-4-3, rank last week: 7) – The New Jersey home for wayward Bruins has been pretty good thus far with both Drew Stafford and Jimmy Hayes making the most of their next opportunity after varying degrees of success in Boston… very varying.

6. Los Angeles Kings (11-6-2, rank last week: 3) – The Kings have hit a bit of a wall with four losses in a row where they’ve scored a grand total of six goals while looking much more like last season’s bunch of Kings. Jonathan Quick will keep them in those games now that he’s healthy again, but you’re not going to win if you can’t score.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets (12-7-1, rank last week: 8) – The Blue Jackets have bounced back from four losses in a row to win three games in a row where they needed to grind it out with an on-his-game Sergei Bobrovsky. That’s pretty much how it’s going to go for Columbus.   

8. Pittsburgh Penguins (11-7-3, rank last week: 4) – Phil Kessel is leading the Penguins in scoring and Sidney Crosby has been merely okay offensively (six goals in 21 games) with a minus-12 on the season. Has the whole world of the Penguins turned upside down or what?

9. Vegas Golden Knights (11-6-1, rank last week: 9) – The long goaltending nightmare is over for Vegas as it appears that Malcolm Subban is approaching a return to the lineup. Credit to the Golden Knights for holding things together while the injuries played out, and continuing to defy the odds of what they could do this season.   

10. Nashville Predators (10-6-2, rank last week: 10) – The Predators are 5-1-1 in Music City and once again making that a tough place to play for opponents. Certainly the sight of PK Subban in a cowboy hat during pregame warm-ups is sign that the Predators players are fully buying into what’s going on in Nashville, and that makes them a very formidable opponent.

11.   New York Islanders (10-6-2, rank last week: 11) – The Isles have won a couple of games in a row and appear to have hit their stride while slowly moving up the Metro Division ranks. That they’ve done with so-so seasons for Jordan Eberle and Andrew Ladd certainly says plenty about other guys stepping up.  

12. Ottawa Senators (8-4-5, rank last week: 13) – Nobody has played fewer games in the NHL than the Senators, and they are just outside a playoff spot after adding Matt Duchene to their lineup. I’d say things are looking pretty good for Ottawa and where they’re set up at this point in the season.

13. San Jose Sharks (10-7-0, rank last week: 20) – The Sharks are the best defensive team in the NHL, and have the second-best penalty kill in the league this season. That’s certainly a change from the past for the Sharks, but they remain, as ever, in the hunt for the playoffs.

14. Detroit Red Wings (10-8-2, rank last week: 19) – It’s less than a week before Thanksgiving and the Red Wings are in a playoff spot. It’s a big question if they can sustain what they’ve built up this far and they do have three or four games on much of their Atlantic Division competition, but they are in a better spot than anybody could have imagined at this point.

15. Minnesota Wild (9-7-2, rank last week: 26) – The Wild have won four games in a row as Devan Dubnyk is starting to get his stuff together, and are once again in the mix in the Central Division as they seemingly always have been over the recent past.

16. Chicago Blackhawks (9-8-2, rank last week: 24) – The Blackhawks have been jolted back to life by rookie Alex DeBrincat pumping up the offense to support the longtime veteran core. They’ve won two of their last three games and scored 15 goals in those three games as well.

17. Calgary Flames (10-8-0, rank last week: 12) – The Flames have won five of their last seven games, but also gave up eight goals to the Red Wings in their last loss. Jaromir Jagr has been pretty okay since getting healthy for the Flames, so the legend keeps on growing.

18. Washington Capitals (10-9-1, rank last week: 18) – The Capitals are 24th in the NHL in goals against and Braden Holtby has been pretty ordinary for the Capitals this season. It sure feels like they’ve lost a little something defensively this season, which doesn’t bode well for their Cup chances.

19.  Vancouver Canucks (9-8-2, rank last week: 15) – All three of their leading scorers are young, talented forwards, so at least the Canucks have that going for them…which is nice. But the Sedins have five goals and a combined 15 points in 38 games, and it appears the end may be nearing for the Swedish twins.

20.  Colorado Avalanche (9-7-1, rank last week: 21) – It feels like Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon have both played much better since the Matt Duchene train left the station. Maybe that’s a coincidence, but it doesn’t feel like it for whatever reason.

21. Philadelphia Flyers (8-6-0, rank last week: 14) – The Flyers have scored a grand total of one goal in their last three games, which is also a three-game losing streak for the Broad Street Bullies. Who would have guessed that offense would be a major issue for this group?

22. Anaheim Ducks (8-7-3, rank last week: 17) – The Ducks have points in four of their last five games, and finally seem to be pulling things together a month into the season. This isn’t the same team that was a Western Conference powerhouse a couple of years ago, but they can still be a heavy, formidable foe on any given night.

23. New York Rangers (9-9-2, rank last week: 16) – The bad news for the Rangers is that the six-game winning streak is in the rearview mirror. The good news is that Rick Nash seems to have found his game, and is producing offense for a Blueshirts group that needs everything they can get.

24. Boston Bruins (7-7-4, rank last week: 23) – The Bruins, through injuries and major inexperience, are slowly sliding down into oblivion before Thanksgiving, and are going to need to find some things to hang their hat on if they want to survive the month of November.  

25. Dallas Stars (9-9-1, rank last week: 22) – The Stars are 2-4-1 in the month of November, and have been outscored 24-7 in the losses this month. It really feels like there is a compete problem in Big ‘D’ where they shouldn’t be getting dominated like that from a talent standpoint.

26. Montreal Canadiens (8-10-2, rank last week: 25) – While it’s good that Charlie Lindgren has stepped up and been pretty good for the Habs in an emergency-type situation, it’s an absolute disaster that Carey Price is banged up again for Montreal. This is a season where everything that could go wrong pretty much has for the Habs.

27. Carolina Hurricanes (7-6-4, rank last week: 27) – The Hurricanes have taken seven of their last 10 points, but it’s not really making much of a dent in the Metro Division. The one truly encouraging sign has been some very good goaltending from Scott Darling and Cam Ward.

28. Edmonton Oilers (7-10-2, rank last week: 28) – The Oilers seemed like they might be pulling out of their early-season funk, but then lost four of their last five games to stick close to the Pacific Division basement. It’s been a rough start for Cam Talbot, and that’s been one of the big differences for the Oil.   

29. Florida Panthers (7-9-2, rank last week: 30) – You have to wonder where the Panthers would be if they hadn’t brought in a player like Evgenii Dadonov, who has been one of the best offensive players on the team this year. That’s a nice win for Florida’s management group to get him back in the fold this season.

30. Buffalo Sabres (5-10-4, rank last week: 29) – So many sticks to break for Jack Eichel, so little time.

31. Arizona Coyotes (3-15-3, rank last week: 31) – The Coyotes have gone 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. That is considered a major roll for them, so they have to be getting pretty excited out in the desert.

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Bruins will play Blackhawks in 2019 NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame

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Bruins will play Blackhawks in 2019 NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame

The Bruins will once again be taking things outdoors and participating in their third Winter Classic in franchise history, but for the first time they won’t be hosting the NHL’s centerpiece event. The B’s announced on Saturday afternoon that they’ll be facing off against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2019 Winter Classic that will be played at iconic Notre Dame Stadium. Both the Bruins and Blackhawks aren’t exactly strangers to the outdoor showcase, and per usual the Black and Gold are happy to be part of a big deal event for the league.

“The Boston Bruins are excited to be playing in the 2019 Bridgestone Winter Classic against another storied Original Six franchise, the Chicago Blackhawks,” said Bruins President Cam Neely, in a press release. “The rich history of Notre Dame Stadium is well documented, and our team looks forward to playing at such an iconic venue. We hope that by participating in these large scale and unique NHL events we can bring Bruins fans new hockey experiences, and that we can use these opportunities to help grow our great game and attract new fans.”

There will be some natural storylines for the game including the rematch of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final participants, and a return to Notre Dame for Fighting Irish forward Anders Bjork after playing three seasons in South Bend. The Bruins/Blackhawks Winter Classic matchup was first reported by Barstool Sports almost two weeks ago, but it wasn’t until Saturday that any of the officials involved were ready to confirm the game.

The Bruins will be in their third Winter Classic after hosting the Jan. 1 outdoor game at Fenway Park in 2010 in an overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers, and at Gillette Stadium in 2016 in a blowout loss to the Montreal Canadiens.  It is a league-most fourth Winter Classic appearance for the Blackhawks, who hosted the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field in 2009, took on the Washington Capitals at Nationals Park in 2015, and most recently played the St. Louis Blues at Busch Stadium in 2017.