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Thomas revives memories of McLean's epic performance

Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas keeps his eyes on the puck as he makes a save against the Vancouver Canucks during the second period of game 5 Stanley Cup final playoff hockey action in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, June 10, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Jonathan Hayward/CP

Roberto Luongo isn't the only Vancouver goaltender against whom Boston netminder Tim Thomas is being compared in these playoffs.

For long-time Canucks fans, Thomas's Conn Smythe-worthy play is reminiscent of the campaign put in by Vancouver's Kirk McLean in the team's 1994 run to the Stanley Cup final.

Not surprisingly, Thomas is closing in on McLean's NHL record for most saves in the playoffs. After Friday night's Game 5, Thomas had made 725 stops in 23 games. The Boston goaltender saw his shutout streak come to an end after 111 minutes and 42 seconds. Maxim Lapierre put an end to the streak when he scored at 4:35 of the third period in the 1-0 contest.

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According to Saturday's Boston Globe: Lapierre said afterward he knew Thomas would come out of his crease, like he normally does, to challenge Kevin Bieksa's point shot. Bieksa's half-hearted slap shot bounced off the end boards to Lapierre, who flubbed his one-time shot but got just enough of it to score.

"There was a shot from the point, it went wide, bounced out the other side,'' said Thomas, who unlike after the 1-0 loss in Game 1, was not in a jovial mood.

"Lapierre - however you pronounce his name - he whacked at it towards the net. I think if he would've shot it clean, it would've given me a better chance the way it was. It bounced off my stomach and a couple of inches over the line before I could get a handle on it.''

In 1994, McLean finished with 761 saves in 24 games.

It's long been considered the greatest four-round playoff performance by a Canucks goaltender.

McLean finished the playoffs that year with a goals-against average of 2.29 and a save percentage of .928. He allowed 59 goals against, but none in four games - a playoff shutout record he shared with several other netminders until Dominik Hasek set the new record of six in 2002.

Thomas's numbers in these playoffs aren't all that different from McLean's.

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Thomas has allowed 48 goals in two fewer games, has three shutouts, a GAA of 2.11 and a save percentage of .936. Had the Canucks won the Cup in 1994, McLean was nearly everyone's favourite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy - just as Thomas likely will be should the Bruins prevail.

Just as Boston's mostly blue-collar team has fed off the lights-out play of its goaltender, so too did the mostly blue-collar Canucks squad of 1994 get inspired by the play of McLean.

Pat Quinn, who coached Vancouver that year, said Friday that the performance of a goaltender can often permeate the consciousness of the players in front of him. If he's hot, it imbues the whole team with confidence. If he's not, if he is prone to meltdowns, it can sometimes prompt a defenceman to second-guess his natural inclinations on the ice.

"There's no question that Boston is benefiting from that in this series," the veteran NHL coach said. "If you're afraid of the guy in your net, it changes how you play whether it's intentional or not. Usually it's not, but you take on a different mindset.

"You sometimes are a little extra cautious, and in being more cautious, it takes away some of your natural aggressiveness. The reverse of that is if your goalie is standing on his head, you're not inclined to panic as much."

Quinn still considers McLean's virtuoso performance in '94 one of the greatest playoff feats by a goaltender he has ever witnessed. He said the battle between McLean and the Rangers' Mike Richter in the Stanley Cup final was epic.

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"It is very rare that you win the big prize without a superb performance from your goalie," Quinn said. "Look at those three Cups that New Jersey won. You can't tell me they win those without [Martin]Brodeur, who was at the top of his game at the time."

Jim Robson, the Vancouver Canucks' legendary broadcaster who has retired from the booth, had a front-row seat for the Kirk McLean show in 1994. He understands why Tim Thomas's play in these playoffs is invoking memories of McLean's goaltending in '94.

"And Tim Thomas is a great story," Robson said. "Just the way he had to work his way into the NHL and his outgoing personality. But he also is a throwback in terms of the way he plays the game. He's like old Billy Smith the way he battles in his net."

Still, Robson hasn't seen anything that rivals what McLean did against a series of playoff opponents in '94, starting with Calgary and ending with the Rangers.

"He had back-to-back shutouts against the Leafs in the conference final, six overtime wins including a couple of double overtimes," Robson remembered. "He played every minute of every game [1,544 to be precise]and he won 15 games.

"His 52 saves against the Rangers in Game 1 was one of the great playoff performances ever. He single-handedly won that game for Vancouver. He stole the game. And that's what Thomas can do too. For Kirk, his Cup chase came up just short."

Canucks fans are hoping it does for Tim Thomas too.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More


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