BOSTON (CBS) — It’s been a frustrating week for Claude Julien. With his Boston Bruins struggling, losers of four of their last five, he’s had the added distraction of dealing with the return of Tyler Seguin on Tuesday and Tim Thomas on Thursday.
Both were members of the 2011 Stanley Cup-winning Bruins team, and both left the franchise considerably less beloved by Boston than they had been before. After Seguin’s shootout goal helped lift the Stars over the Bruins on Tuesday, Julien wanted nothing to do with any more Seguin questions, responding to one by saying, “I don’t care about that. Give it a break. I’m mad because we lost. Next.”
Well, “next” on the schedule was Thomas and the Florida Panthers. Though Thomas remains on injured reserve and won’t play against his old team, the B’s coach was nevertheless asked about the former netminder. Specifically, he was asked about the belief some people hold that the Bruins would not have won the Cup in 2011 if not for Thomas.
“Well they’re right,” Julien said. “But Tim Thomas doesn’t win the Stanley Cup if our team doesn’t play as well as they did in front of him. So this is an honest statement: Tim played well but I think our team played just as well in front of him. You don’t win a Stanley Cup with just a goaltender. He won the Conn Smythe because he was very good but at the same time, I would like to hope the statistic of your goaltenders can also reflect the team in front of you. We did a pretty good job in front of him for years minimizing the goal scoring chances and the quality of it. So let’s make sure we don’t take away credit from the rest of the team, too. He was a big part of it and so were a lot of other guys, but at the same time, I think we won the Stanley Cup because we were a good team. That’s what I like to think anyways.”
Julien’s comment was immediately tweeted out in snippets, raising some eyebrows and generating some debate on Twitter. But if you strip away any shock value from 140-character excerpts and look at the comment for facts, the coach didn’t say anything controversial.
Thomas was without question the MVP of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, and he has himself a Conn Smythe Trophy to show for it. In the finals, he allowed eight goals in seven games, stopping 238 of 246 shots from the Canucks, who led the league with an average of 3.15 goals per game during the regular season and 2.78 goals per game in the postseason prior to that series.
But it takes a team to win any playoff series, obviously, and what history has sometimes forgotten is that Thomas did not carry the team on his back from wire-to-wire during that postseason run. The goaltender posted a .925 save percentage and 2.24 goals-against average in the conference quarterfinals round against Montreal, and the team needed an overtime game-winner from Michael Ryder and two from Nathan Horton in order to get past the Canadiens. (They also needed a glove save — and a beauty — from Ryder to win Game 5.)
The Flyers were a pushover in the second round, when the Bruins scored 20 goals in four games to sweep the series.
In the third round against Tampa Bay, Thomas was very good but not necessarily great, posting a .916 save percentage and 2.73 GAA. He allowed four goals in one loss and five in another, but the thing about diving stick saves to rob Steve Downie is that they tend to eliminate the bad performances from memory.
And in the finals, Thomas was brilliant, but so were his teammates, who scored 3.28 goals per game in the series against the Canucks, who led the league with 2.20 goals allowed per game during the season. Thomas was the best player, but it takes more than one player to win a Stanley Cup. Just look at Jean-Sebastien Giguere in 2003 for evidence. He posted a 1.62 GAA and .945 save percentage in 2003 — both better than Thomas’ 1.98 GAA and .940 save percentage in ’11 — but fell short of winning the Cup for the then-Mighty Ducks, who scored just 12 goals in seven games of the finals.
In his comment, Julien was also quick to point out that people are correct for thinking the Bruins wouldn’t have won without Thomas in net. That part was overlooked or ignored in the initial quote that spread on Twitter, but it may have been the most important. When reduced to its shortest form, the comment could be interpreted as an insult to Thomas meant to try to downplay the goaltender’s significance in winning Boston its first Stanley Cup since the 1970s. To do that would have been outrageous; alas, that’s not what Julien did.
So no, Julien didn’t say anything outrageous on Thursday, despite the minor uproar that took place on Twitter. But with Seguin and Thomas’ first trips to Boston as visitors, and with the never-ending story line of Phil Kessel coming to the Garden on Saturday, it’s probably a safe bet that next week can’t come soon enough for the coach.