Thomas never saw it coming
Ward’s goal and an early exit are complete stunners
Tim Thomas never even saw the goal that ended the Bruins’ season.
He was locked in on Mike Knuble from the moment the puck hit the Capitals’ forward in the shinpads and he started rushing toward the net trying to sneak in a scoring opportunity as Boston made a line change.
Knuble had Joel Ward with him on his right side, but he had no intentions of passing it.
“I was going right to the crease with that one,’’ Knuble said.
Thomas was waiting for him, sizing him up.
“He had himself in a position - he’s a big strong guy - to where it looked like he knew he could cut across the net or he could go both ways, so I had to play him straight up,’’ Thomas said.
Thomas played it exactly the way he wanted. He saw Knuble get stuck on his backhand and waited for him to release the puck before he went down to stop it.
“I didn’t want him to be able to go up and over my pad,’’ Thomas said.
He denied Knuble, but everything after that is black.
Knuble’s momentum carried him into the crease, where he crashed into Thomas.
“My head was probably in about his stomach,’’ the goalie said.
From there, Ward was just doing cleanup duty.
He poked the rebound by Thomas, giving the Capitals a series-clinching 2-1 overtime win in Game 7.
Thomas never saw it.
“I don’t have a picture of it in my head even, because I couldn’t stand up,’’ he said.
But he could tell just by listening that the plug had been pulled not just on the crowd at TD Garden, but on the Bruins’ season.
“You just hear the crowd and you hear them going crazy,’’ he said. “So you know something happened.’’
It was Thomas’s sixth Game 7. He hadn’t lost one since 2009, and he didn’t see the Bruins falling Wednesday night.
“It’s obviously a shock,’’ he said. “I really believed we were going to win tonight. I really had a deep feeling that this wasn’t the end of the road for us tonight, that this wasn’t going to be the last game of the season.’’
On a night when he made 25 saves, including 12 in the third period, he was outdueled by 22-year-old Braden Holtby (31 saves), who wouldn’t let the moment rattle him.
Holtby had played in just seven NHL games before this series. He didn’t even want to look at the upset as a personal milestone.
“I mean, I don’t know if it’s one-on-one like that,’ Holtby said. “I’m proud of our team and how we outdueled the defending Stanley Cup champs.’’
The series was the kind that sends goalies to therapists.
Six of the seven game-winning goals came within the final two minutes - or overtime.
The Capitals got to Thomas early when Matt Hendricks deflected John Carlson’s shot from near the blue line in the first period to take the lead. But in series of one-goal decisions, it was clear things would even up.
“Both teams battled very hard,’’ said Thomas. “They stuck to their game plan. They made it very difficult for us to generate any offense or any momentum with the style that they played. What it says about our guys is they’re battlers and they’re still champions. They gave everything they had to the bitter end, but unfortunately this is sports and they fell short this time.’’
Thomas allowed 16 goals in the series. He’s 38 with a year left on the four-year, $20 million contract he signed in 2009, and there’s still an abundance of confidence in him within the locker room.
“I think he’s a great goalie,’’ Johnny Boychuk said. “He’s saved our butts a lot throughout the year. Throughout the series, he made plenty of saves and you know he’s going to be battling for you every night. And when you have a guy like that behind you, you don’t have any worries.’’
The issue now, though, is the long summer ahead.
“That’s obviously a very difficult thing for me,’’ Thomas said. “I had pictured ending up holding the Cup again this year, and I believed that this team still had what it took to get it done.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.