After his stellar performance throughout the entire 2011 NHL playoffs, Tim Thomas was the runaway favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. That fact would not have changed even with a loss in last night's Game 7.
Thomas only surrendered eight goals in the seven-game series, breaking the record of nine dating back to 1945. After such an amazing season, Thomas quieted any remaining doubters when he continued his hot play all the way through the playoffs: four shutouts, highest save percentage, most shots faced, goals against average under two and four penalty minutes to prove he's tough.
Thomas had a complete postseason, and his play will go down as one of the best goaltending displays of all times. He could very well be considered one of the all-time Bruins for being the main reason for ending their 39-year Stanley Cup drought.
What shines most about Thomas' postseason is how he proved the overwhelming value of having a solid goalie in the playoffs. Many goalies who started for their respective teams in these playoffs are above average in their overall skills yet could not do what Thomas did. Not very often is there an undisputed Conn Smythe candidate halfway through a seven-game final series.
After watching Thomas over these past few weeks, I am reminded of other great goalie performances in the playoffs, most notably those of Patrick Roy. Arguably the best goaltender of all time, Roy is the only player EVER to win three Conn Smythe Trophies, including during his rookie season. Roy's three wins are part of the 15 times that a goaltender has won the playoff MVP award. There have been 45 total Conn Smythes handed out, and goalies have won a third of them.
What's most significant about Thomas receiving this award is that there was no doubt that he would take home the MVP trophy even if the Bruins fell in Game 7. His play set him apart from the rest, as he was the single player on everyone's minds when the words Conn Smythe were uttered.
This also works into the Conn Smythe facts, as five times the award has been given out to losing players; four of those have been goalies, most recently Jean-Sebastien Giguere in 2003. Even when a team fails to complete its run to the Cup and falls in the Finals, its goalie has had such an impact to be considered the most valuable player.
Thomas winning the Conn Smythe also has an impact on the national level. He is only the second American to win the award (only five of the 45 winners have been non-Canadians), and considering the other winner is Brian Leetch, Thomas is the only American goaltender to win it. He has now earned another title besides Boston's savior or the best goalie in the NHL: Thomas is a pioneer.
The United States has not been known for producing Hall of Fame goaltenders, but Thomas is definitely making us forget about that. His play announced to the world that the goaltending position is no longer within the unreachable clutches of the French Canadian netminders; now it's America's turn.
This year truly belongs to Tim Thomas, and he earned every accolade that comes his way: Vezina winner, All-Star, MVP, pioneer and now NHL champion. Enjoy every minute of it, Timmy—keep setting that bar even higher.