Some call it skill. Some call it hand-eye coordination.
Tim Thomas calls it luck.
“Partial luck,” the grinning Boston Bruins goaltender said while looking out over a crowd of reporters.
That self-described luck came in the form of one particular save of the 33 that Thomas made in the Bruins’ 3-1 Game 5 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night that gave Boston a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
Late in the third period with the Bruins clinging to a one-goal lead, a shot from the point went wide right of Thomas in the Bruins’ goal and bounced off the end boards right onto the stick blade of Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie, who shot toward the open net.
Thomas dove back stick first toward his right post in a last-ditch effort to make the save and got his stick’s blade in the way of the shot before smothering the puck.
“I saw it was going wide and I was out toward the top of the crease, so I didn’t have time to get my whole body back,” Thomas explained.
“With the way the new boards are nowadays in all the arenas,” he added, “you got to be on your toes with the big bounces. And the big bounce came out and, you know, it was just a reaction and a desperation and I’ll admit I got a little bit lucky there.”
Brad Marchand, who put the Bruins ahead 2-1 at 15:56 of the second period, was amazed by Thomas’ effort.
“I was sitting on the bench and I thought it was for sure going to be a goal, those are always pretty easy tap-ins, but Timmy came up with an unbelievable save,” Marchand said.
The Bruins stumbled out of the gates as the Lightning’s Simon Gagne scored just 1:09 into the first period on a two-on-one breakout with Steven Stamkos. The Bruins remained on their heels throughout the first period, being outshot 14-4.
For Thomas, the goal on the first shot he faced didn’t stop him from getting settled in.
“The thought crosses your mind that, oh, I got to bear down even if it’s another two-on-one,” Thomas said. “I got to find a way to make the save because we can’t afford to get down 2-0. The teams are too tight and the games are too tight for that to happen, so that thought is in there.
“The second thing that happens is actually in a funny way to start to relax a little bit, and I don’t know how it works but it kind of works that way for me. I don’t want to let in an early goal, obviously, but I’ve had experience with it in the past and for some reason, sometimes it can relax me and that’s kind of the effect it had tonight.”
Thomas went on to stop the final 33 shots he faced. His sharp play lifted his teammates, Marchand said.
“He seems to be so calm out there. And even the last half of the game, you saw some of the saves he was making and you kind of look at him and you get a sense of confidence just from the way he stands there and he’s just so poised and calm in situations like that,” Marchand said.
“I think that’s why he’s such a great goalie. In those big moments when you need him, he’s calm and relaxed and he’s confident and that’s big for us.”
And as far as Thomas looking ahead, the Vezina Trophy candidate isn’t getting ahead of himself.
“The is fact that we’re one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals, but that isn’t what we need to focus on and that isn’t really what I’m thinking about,” Thomas said.
“We need to focus on just playing the next game as good as we can and trying to get one win and not look at it like one win gets us to the Stanley Cup Finals, but just more like approach it the same way we have most of these playoffs and kind of keep it simple.”