When you lead the NHL in save percentage (.933) and goals against average (2.10), you should be a lock for the Vezina Trophy, especially if your team had the best record in the Eastern Conference.
When it comes to Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, the question is no longer his ability to post regular-season stats.
No, the question is whether Thomas has playoff goods. Tonight’s Game 5 between the Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes will go a long way toward answering that. The more one watches of the Canes-Bruins series, the more one realizes that the Bruins need Thomas to “steal” a game if they are going to rebound from their 3-1 deficit.
It’s plain the Bruins have no answer for Hurricanes center Eric Staal who, as WEEI.com’s Joe Haggerty recently pointed out, has become one of the top 10 players in the league, right before our eyes. (Fantasy hockey players, take note: Staal is worthy of your second-round pick next year.) Not only does Staal have four goals in his last three games, but he is shooting an astonishing 44 percent in that span — in other words, Staal scored those four goals on nine shots. That is outright Ruthian by NHL standards.
And if Thomas doesn’t thwart it tonight, the Bruins are finished. Yes, I’m aware Thomas is not (solely) to blame for Staal’s dominance. What I’m saying is it’s time for Thomas to have a superhuman performance in net; he has to stand on his head and offset the skaters’ inability to corral Staal.
Of course, win or lose tonight, Thomas deserves the Vezina. Aside from his league-leading save percentage and GAA, he notched a terrific record (36-11-7) and posted five shutouts. These numbers made him the best goalie in fantasy hockey as well.
As for Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason (33-20-7), he is a worthy runner-up, both in fantasy and real life. His 10 shutouts led the league, and they were not soft shutouts either. Mason hung zeros vs. the Bruins (3/10), at Washington (1/6) and vs. Washington (11/29). Mason’s 2.29 GAA ranked second behind only Thomas, and his .916 save percentage ranked 11th.
The third Vezina finalist is Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (37-24-8). Backstrom’s numbers make him worthy: eight shutouts (ranking third), a 2.33 GAA (also third) and a .923 save percentage (ranking fourth). Strictly in terms of fantasy hockey, Backstrom deserved to be among the final three.
But if I were in charge of the real-life Vezina, I’d have given Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo the nomination instead of Backstrom.
Backstrom has the slight edge in stats: Luongo had one more shutout (nine) but was a shade behind in terms of record (33-13-7), GAA (2.34) and save percentage (.920).
The thing is, does anyone out there really believe Backstrom was better than Luongo this season? Their stats were a virtual dead heat — so doesn’t Luongo deserve the nod, considering the system Backstrom plays in? Backstrom’s backup, Josh Harding, posted a 2.21 GAA and .929 save percentage. Not to knock Harding, but sometimes I feel as if you could set up a garbage pail between the pipes in Minnesota, and the pail would crack the top ten in GAA and save percentage.
photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons