Goaltending: Why Boston Bruins beat Vancouver Canucks to Win the Stanley Cup

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Goaltending: Why Boston Bruins beat Vancouver Canucks to Win the Stanley Cup
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In the days following Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, there has been no shortage of discussion about why the Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks.

Some analysts attributed the series victory to the Bruins having more toughness and a bigger will to win. Others pointed to the Canucks having too many injuries and not enough scoring from their big guns as the main reasons for their demise.

However, the biggest and perhaps the only reason why the Bruins topped the Canucks in the series should have been obvious to anyone who watched Game 7 closely. Tim Thomas was better than Roberto Luongo.

Now before I got any further, I should make it clear that this is not an article that’s meant to condemn Roberto Luongo. He is still one of the best goalies in the world and he has a very realistic opportunity to lead the Canucks to Stanley Cup glory next year. But this time around he was clearly outplayed by his counterpart.

Tim Thomas was amazing. He put together one of the best Stanley Cup Finals performances that anyone has ever seen. His 1.15 goals-against average is the lowest in the modern era among goaltenders with at least five appearances. His .967 save percentage in the finals is also the best among goaltenders in the modern era with at least five appearances and he set a third record by making the most saves in any Stanley Cup Finals series with 238.

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Thomas’ god-like performance is the reason why many people have deflected the negative attention in Vancouver’s loss away from Luongo. Instead they’ve been pointing their fingers at the Canucks' lack of offense in the finals. After all, even if Luongo was at or near the top of his game in the Canucks' four losses, you could make the argument that the Canucks still wouldn’t have won those games because Thomas was just that good.

But the problem for Vancouver was the Luongo didn’t play anywhere near the top of his game in any of the Boston victories. In Game 3 he let in eight goals on 38 shots and in Game 4 he gave up four goals on just 20 shots before being replaced by Cory Schneider. Then in Game 6, which was perhaps his worst performance of the entire postseason, he gave up three goals on only eight shots and was against replaced by Schneider less than 10 minutes into the first period.

Then there was Game 7, the biggest game of them all on the biggest stage of them all. These are the types of games that can define careers and legacies.

It wasn’t a horrible performance from Luongo, but it wasn’t a good one either. In a game where the Canucks out-shot the Bruins 37-21, Thomas was perfect, while Luongo let in two poor goals.

One of those goals was on a shot that he wasn’t ready for, which is inexcusable in any game, let alone Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. The other poor goal came on a play where he appeared to be afraid of contact and let both the oncoming Patrice Bergeron and the puck slide by him. Surely Tim Thomas would have put his body in between the man and the goal line, making sure there was no way either would get past him. In fact, Thomas would have probably body checked any Canucks forward who was about to run into him, much like he did to Henrik Sedin in Game 3.

Elsa/Getty Images

Game 7 made it very clear that Tim Thomas was mentally tougher than Roberto Luongo and that's why he outplayed him. 

You can criticize the Sedin twins for putting up just five points in the seven-game series. However, Game 7, along with almost every other game in the series saw the twins create numerous scoring chances. They just couldn’t beat Tim Thomas.

In fact, the Canucks out-shot the Bruins 246 to 225 over the entire series even though the Bruins outscored the Canucks 23-8. If that doesn’t tell you that goaltending was the difference, I don’t know what else will.

There’s no mistaking Roberto Luongo’s greatness at times during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Vancouver Canucks' three victories in the finals is the proof. However, his inconsistency compared to the overall brilliance of Tim Thomas is the main reason why the Boston Bruins hoisted the Stanley Cup and why Thomas won the Conn Smythe trophy.

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