Any and all pundits who were ready to place Tim Thomas within the same all-time echelon as Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur last week were plainly on a storybook sugar rush in the climax of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
On the other hand, the veteran Boston Bruins goalie has certified himself as more than a one-year wonder, not only by snagging his second Vezina Trophy in three seasons but by sandwiching a royal struggle between those accolades.
And even if he does not have another campaign that equates his 2010-11 conquest, and even though he hardly had enough time to build a Hall of Fame-worthy resume in the first place, Thomas has had a better lot in hockey life than others.
In the five years since reaching that summit at the tender age of 22 and with only 51 NHL games on his log, Ward has only won an additional eight playoff games.
Those were all in 2009, ironically peaking with an upset of Thomas’ Bruins before being swept by the Cyclopean Pittsburgh Penguins. The rest of the time, Ward has backstopped four playoff no-shows in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011.
Still merely 27 years of age, a full decade younger than Thomas, Ward has plenty of room to add on to his trophy case. He will still have multiple chances for more titles and his first of what might be more than one Vezina.
No one is saying he couldn’t even use the years ahead of him to ultimately reach an all-time stature akin to a Roy or a Brodeur.
But there’s no guarantee. And what if none of that happens for him? What if 2006 really is the high point for Ward?
In the middle of a college semester, professors are often inclined to tell their students that if they are having unfavorable results so far, there is still time to recompense past frustrations and finish the course on a high note.
Conversely, if one is excelling early and often, there is plenty of time left to mess up the works and diminish one’s gratifying pace.
Thomas, who required 354 semipro games in nine years with only a four-game cup of coffee in between before landing a permanent gig in the NHL, is a testament to the former scenario. Ward is still at risk of falling into the latter case of sourness following sweetness.
Granted, a Stanley Cup ring is a Stanley Cup ring and a Conn Smythe honor is a Conn Smythe honor, regardless of when it is achieved. That being said, if given the choice between your first NHL season at age 22 or in your 14th professional campaign at 37, when would you rather have that honor?
Much like the Bruins (more precisely the core Bruins) as a whole, Thomas is a testament to the notion of triumph becoming all the more pungent when preceded by adversity and repeated heartache.
Odds are when those two sensations consistently flow in the inverse direction, when one fails to build upon a sparkling first impression, the frustration is that much tougher to bear.
Luckily for Thomas, his path has been a test of physical and psychological elasticity.
That resiliency has never remitted. It has merely reappeared in an exponentially greater form.
From his first regular-season call-up in October of 2002, to his first full-length NHL campaign in 2006-07, to his first playoff appearance in 2008, to his playoff series win and first Vezina in 2009, to his return to the Bruins’ starting position en route to a three-trophy campaign in 2011.