The Bear Cave

August 13, 2009 8:09 AM

Top Game #10: Thomas Stands Tall in Western Canada

The 2008-09 Boston Bruins put together one of the best seasons in recent memory. After finishing in eighth place in the Eastern Conference a year earlier, the Bruins rattled off 53 wins and 116 points, giving them the second-best record in the entire league. Over the next few weeks, we'll look back at some of the memories from this thrilling team, as I countdown my top ten games from this past season. Now that a few days have gone by and people have had a chance to make up their own lists, it's time to get it started.

Those that read my introduction a few days ago will remember that the 2009 version of the countdown begins with a bit of an odd twist, as tenth place will be shared by two different games. While that may have sounded confusing at first, hopefully it will make sense by the end of this article.

For 10A and 10B, we rewind the calendar back to October of 2008. The 2008-09 Boston Bruins were given quite the challenge to start the regular season, as they would only play three games at the TD Banknorth Garden during the first month of the campaign. October began with a four-game road trip, that saw Boston come away with five out of eight possible points. The Bruins picked up wins in Denver and Ottawa, while falling short in Minneapolis and Montreal. The club then returned home for a stretch of four games in six days, going 1-1-1 on home ice, while also falling in a shootout at Buffalo.

Those eight games ultimately set the stage for one of the toughest road trips in the NHL - three games in four nights, taking on the three teams from Western Canada. Boston's journey began in Edmonton on the 27th, continued in Vancouver on the 28th, and finished in Calgary on the 30th. Most teams tend to hope for three points out of this venture, as the three teams tend to be tough opponents, especially in their own building. The Bruins skated away with four, but that number could have easily been zero if it weren't for the brilliant goaltending of Tim Thomas.

Game 10A is the road trip opener at Edmonton's Rexall Place. The Bruins were coming off of a thrilling win in their last game, and the momentum appeared to carry over, as they quickly grabbed an 11-3 advantage in shots on goal. That was answered by an Oilers' flurry that saw the first period end with a combined 25 shots on goal. The game remained scoreless through two periods of play, with Boston leading 24-15 in shots.

Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson kept stepping up their games as the contest progressed, with each netminder making a dazzling stop during the third period. Roloson's came first, as he got a glove on Marc Savard's one-timer from the bottom of the right circle at the 3:30 mark. Thomas wasn't about to be outdone, as he sprawled out to deny Ales Hemsky with 4:12 remaining in regulation. Those saves helped in keeping the scoreboard blank, as the Bruins and Oilers needed extra time to decide this one.

In overtime, a defensive zone turnover put the home team in trouble. Sam Gagner tried to send a pass through the middle of the ice, but got picked off by Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron went hard to the net, drawing a hooking penalty on Shawn Horcoff.

Boston went right to work with the man advantage, putting as many shots as it could in the direction of the net. With 1:42 left in overtime, one of those shots finally found the back of the cage. Marc Savard received a pass along the goal line, and looked toward the net, drawing the defense in. He then passed back to Dennis Wideman at the top of the right circle. Wideman wanted to try a one-timer, but the pass was in his feet, so he opted for a wrist shot. That ended up being the correct decision, as the wrist shot flew over Roloson's left arm.

Wideman's second goal of the season gave Thomas his second win of the campaign, as the B's netminder turned aside all 27 shots he faced. Despite the overtime loss, Roloson was spectacular on the other end of the ice, as he made 35 saves on 36 shots for the Oilers.

Game 10B occurred one night later, as the Bruins took the ice at Vancouver's GM Place. For the second night in a row, it was the goalies who took center stage, as all-stars Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo stood in their respective creases. The Canucks tried to pounce on their tired guests early, but Boston's netminder was ready, as he made three quick saves during the first two minutes of play.

Unlike in the Edmonton game, fans in Vancouver didn't have to wait all that long to see the red light get turned on. With a delayed penalty upcoming against the Canucks, Boston took the lead 10:16 into the evening. The delayed penalty allowed Marc Savard to take the ice as an extra attacker in place of Tim Thomas. Savard promptly got the puck on the left side, and tried sending a pass to Marco Sturm at the edge of the crease. Sturm was unable to catch the pass, but luckily for the Bruins, it got deflected out to Michael Ryder in the high slot. Ryder skated onto the loose puck, beating Roberto Luongo with a wrist shot low to the stick side.

With a little less than five minutes remaining in the opening stanza, Thomas made his first big save of the game. Daniel Sedin picked off a pass in his defensive zone, and proceeded to take the puck coast-to-coast on a breakaway. Sedin tried to beat the Boston goaltender with a low snap shot, but Thomas kept his pads closed, sending his team into the dressing room with a 1-0 lead.

The action slowed down during the second period, but Thomas was called upon for another crucial stop during the third. With approximately 12 minutes to go in regulation, Daniel Sedin tossed a pass over to his brother, hoping to connect on a one-timer. Henrik got the shot off from the right circle, but the 34-year old (at the time) netminder had the play read perfectly. Thomas calmly slid across his crease, trapping the puck up against his left pad.

However, the Bruins weren't out of the woods yet, as Vancouver would shift into desperation mode in the final minutes. The Canucks buzzed around the crease in the dying seconds, but Thomas and the Boston defense held them off, hanging on for a second straight 1-0 victory. Thomas' 31 saves gave him a perfect mark of 58-for-58 over the two nights, as he defeated Luongo, who made 29 stops of his own in the loss.

Although Boston did fall 3-2 in Calgary to complete the Western Canadian Swing, the wins in Edmonton and Vancouver were certainly impressive. After starting the season with a record of 3-2-3, the Bruins needed a lift to launch them in the standings. They received that, finishing the trip and the month of October with an overall mark of 5-3-3.

The first two games of the journey also helped to solidify the goaltending situation for the 2008-09 season. Most fans would have told you that the net belonged to Tim Thomas from the start, but he and Manny Fernandez alternated appearances for the first eight games. The win in Edmonton was the first of five consecutive starts for Thomas (4-1-0), ultimately earning him the number-one role, while also gaining the confidence of his teammates. That confidence translated into a 36-11-7 record, a 2.11 goals against average, a .933 save percentage, and a Vezina Trophy.

In game number nine, the shootout makes its lone appearance on the countdown.

2008-09 Boston Bruins Top Ten Games:
10A. October 27th- BRUINS 1 @ Edmonton 0 (OT)
10B. October 28th- BRUINS 1 @ Vancouver 0

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