With long-time Boston Bruins' captain Ray Bourque playing the sentimental nucleus as part of “Mission 16W,” Roy allowed only one goal over back-to-back elimination games for Colorado in the 2001 championship. He would accept his third Conn Smythe Trophy after a 3-1 triumph in Game 7, moments before Avalanche captain Joe Sakic handed the Cup to Bourque.
Similarly, 10 years later, Thomas repelled all but two shots to help the Bruins force and then win Game 7 against the Canucks. He would be called upon to accept the playoff MVP award moments before captain Zdeno Chara ceremoniously confirmed Boston’s first title in 39 years.
All things considered, Roy’s triumph was more expected than Thomas'. The former already had three Cups and two Conn Smythes in his trophy case, the first of each coming when he was a rookie in 1986. The latter blossomed too late in his career to be considered for the Hall of Fame.
Still, there are plenty of profound common threads between the two goalies. Thomas’ biographical trademark is his rise from humble beginnings in Michigan and his odyssey through a maze in Vermont, Finland, Birmingham, Houston, Hamilton, the Detroit Vipers and Providence.
As it happens, Roy was anything but radiant in his own pre-NHL days. In three seasons with the Granby Bisons major-junior team, Roy posted final goals-against averages of 6.26, 4.44 and 5.55, never finishing with a winning record.
At the time of Roy’s retirement in 2003, the late coach Pat Burns even admitted that he was not envisioning much glamour in the budding stopper’s future.
“I said, ‘This guy is going to have a hard time playing in the NHL.’ That's how much I knew back then. He was a very, very competitive goaltender, proved his point along the way.”
Sound familiar to present-day Bruins' buffs?
Even when Thomas broke in for his first full NHL campaign, he was anything but a flattering backbone for Boston. The 2006-07 Bruins finished merely two slots above the Eastern Conference basement while Thomas accrued a 3.13 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in 66 games.
With each subsequent season and playoff run, one of which he missed in 2010 due to a crumbling hip, Thomas had a persistent set of questions that he could not scrape out of his crease.
Yet within two years of his choppy 2006-07 season, Thomas lassoed himself a Vezina Trophy whilst bolstering the Bruins to first place in the Eastern Conference. Roy was barely one year removed from his last unspectacular campaign in Granby when he won his first Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1986.
Thomas was forced to flex his resiliency yet again after his hip failed him and youngster Tuukka Rask supplanted him as Boston’s starter. Roy had more consistent success, but was nonetheless tasked with keeping a peerlessly demanding fanbase content.
When the Habs won the Cup in 1986, it was their first in seven years, ending their longest championship “drought” since the 1940s. They nearly eclipsed that before Roy garnered another Cup-Conn Smythe combination in 1993, when he backstopped 10 postseason overtime victories.
On top of his personal burr, Thomas entered the 2011 playoffs looking to follow through on another Vezina-worthy campaign and to help the Boston faithful breathe easier. Under rampant speculation that the team might undergo a comprehensive overhaul if they did not finally go beyond the second round, he won three overtime decisions, including Game 7, in a come-from-behind triumph over Montreal.
Further redemption followed as Thomas’ Bruins avenged their 2010 collapse versus Philadelphia for their first conference final passport since 1992, then utilized that to reach the championship round for the first time since 1990.
In the midst of waging his duel with Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo, Thomas spent the series engaging his Canucks counterpart in an entertaining war of words. For some, the exchange doubtlessly evoked memories of Roy and Jeremy Roenick in the 1996 playoffs.
And just as it was for Roy that year, 2010-11 culminated in triumph for Thomas. The way he catalyzed his team’s campaign to liberate hockey fans in the Hub was not unlike the way Roy vindicated a Colorado fanbase that had endured the loss of the Rockies 13 years before the Avs came to fill the void.
Of course, there is a less savory side to these stories as well. Every attentive hockey history student knows why Roy was in Colorado that year and for the balance of his career, as opposed to with the Habs team that drafted him in 1984.
Only two-and-a-half years removed from his second Cup and Conn Smythe with Montreal, carbonated differences between the franchise and the franchise goalie came to a burst. Roy was left in the net to brook the bulk of a blowout via the Detroit Red Wings in a Dec. 2, 1995 game at the old Montreal Forum.
The last image of Roy in Habs attire would be produced on the bench with the stopper venting at head coach Mario Tremblay and pouting. He would be swapped out to the Avalanche the following week.
Thomas, who was drafted by but never signed by the Avs’ original incarnation in Quebec City, has yet to formally drop the curtain on his relationship with the Bruins. But with everything between his refusal to join the team at the White House and his choice to take the 2012-13 season off, this, too, shall go down with a sweet-and-sour flavor.
He could ultimately find himself in another NHL team’s crest. Or the very last shot he faces in an NHL game could be the overtime goal that zapped his team out of the first round of the 2012 playoffs in Game 7. (Ironically, that was exactly how Roy concluded his career with Colorado in 2003.)
But odds are there are plenty in Montreal who prefer not to pretend the good times never happened. Ditto the fans in New England.
Both bases would be wise to take that route, for whether it is an individual season or an entire career, they will not have many chances to see someone duplicate what Roy or Thomas did for them.
After all, neither the Bruins nor the Habs (nor the Avs, for that matter) have won a Cup since either of those masked men delivered one as playoff MVP.
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