After all those saves, time to savor

By Nicole Auerbach
Globe Correspondent / June 17, 2011

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All postseason, Tim Thomas was the one with the answers.

A tough shot saved. An opponent’s critical comment ignored.

But after the Bruins beat the Canucks, 4-0, Wednesday night to win their first Stanley Cup since 1972, Thomas was at a loss.

He was “in shock,’’ and he wasn’t sure when it was going to wear off. He needed an answer from someone else.

Thomas asked winger Shawn Thornton, who had won the Cup with the Ducks in 2007, what he was supposed to be experiencing. When would it really hit him that he just reached the pinnacle of his career?

“He said a couple of days,’’ Thomas said. “When it sinks in, it’ll sink in.’’

While he waits to grasp the reality of the achievement, he’ll probably catch up on his sleep. Thomas and his teammates didn’t get much flying back from Vancouver early yesterday.

But the flight was enjoyable, Thomas said, because, for the first time all season, nobody had to think about the next opponent or an upcoming game.

“This five-hour flight, with the Stanley Cup with us, we could truly just relax and enjoy the accomplishment,’’ said Thomas.

For Thomas, it’s about time.

Ever the workhorse, Thomas set records for most saves in one postseason (798) and in the Cup Final (238). He became the second goalie in NHL history to post two Game 7 shutouts in a single postseason. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP — hardly a surprise to anyone who saw him in net lately.

“Tim Thomas, in these playoffs, just totally dominated,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “He was outstanding every game. I know everybody expected him to have an average game at some point. Never came.’’

If he wins the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie, Thomas will become just the second man in NHL history to win the Vezina, the Conn Smythe, and the Cup in the same season. Bernie Parent won all three in back-to-back seasons with the Flyers, 1973 and ’74. The NHL will announce its award winners Wednesday.

The Vezina would be the cherry on top of an unbelievable and unexpected banner year for Thomas.

His journey began at the University of Vermont, wound through leagues in Finland and Sweden, included stints in the ECHL and AHL, and eventually culminated in him hoisting the best-known trophy in sports, a champion at the highest level of hockey.

“It’s ingrained, a deeper appreciation for something like this,’’ Thomas said. “I don’t take it for granted. We won the Stanley Cup last night, but in a part of my mind, I still can’t believe it.’’

Like all of his teammates, Thomas will have his own day to spend with the Cup. He plans on bringing it back to his hometown of Flint, Mich. That’s strict orders from his children.

“Right before the game, I got a text message from my two youngest, a message telling me, ‘Daddy, bring home the Cup,’ ’’ said Thomas.

So he will, to his two daughters and one son. He’s also looking forward to seeing friends and family he’s been “ignoring’’ recently because he’s been a little busy.

In all likelihood, Thomas will be even busier in the weeks and months ahead.

A little over a year ago, he was riding the bench during a playoff run that ended in a humiliating conference semifinal loss to the Flyers. Now, he is the face of the against-all-odds Stanley Cup champions.

“Right now, it’s surreal,’’ said Thomas, standing in front of hundreds of fans outside TD Garden yesterday. “It’s just starting. The craziness is just starting.’’

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