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He's their saving ace

VANCOVER, British Columbia — Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas was never anyone's prize prospect.

The native of Flint, Mich., was drafted 217th by the Quebec Nordiques in 1994 and bounced around for years, playing college hockey in Vermont before beginning an odyssey that wound through the best and worst minor leagues in North America, to Europe and back.

He was 28 when he made his NHL debut and didn't become a regular with the Bruins until he was 32. But his fearless, straight-ahead approach never wavered.

"He's taken a real bumpy road to get to the NHL," coach Claude Julien said. "He's had so many obstacles in front of him that he's overcome, it makes him a battler. It makes him the perfect goaltender for our organization because that's what we are. We're a blue-collar team that goes out and works hard and earns every inch of the ice that you can get."

But as Julien pointed out Thursday, a day after the Bruins' second straight thumping of the Canucks tied the Stanley Cup finals at two games each, "Just because you're blue-collar doesn't mean you don't have skill."

Thomas' skill might be exceeded only by his feistiness. He's aggressive in coming out of his crease and doesn't care if the Canucks moan and insinuate he's a bulldozer on skates.

Thomas threw a check on Henrik Sedin in Game 3 that any defenseman would be proud to claim, and when Alex Burrows tried to knock the stick out of his hand in Game 4, Thomas chopped Burrows in the ankle and touched off a skirmish.

Thomas isn't about to back off now, with the finals reduced to a best-of-three series starting Friday at Rogers Arena. Nor will his teammates ease up on the physicality that has worn down the Canucks and blunted nearly all of Vancouver's potent scoring threats.

"It's important for us to play the same type of game that we played the last two games," Thomas, 37, said Thursday. "The challenge is doing it. It's easy to say, 'This is what we have to do,' but it takes an extreme amount of effort and people laying their bodies on the line."

Thomas has stopped 141 of 146 shots in the finals for a dazzling .966 save percentage, and his 701 saves through 22 games is the second-highest total in postseason history behind the 761 made by the Canucks' Kirk McLean in 1994.

The goalie nobody could see making it in the NHL now can see himself winning hockey's ultimate prize.

"It's important to visualize winning the Cup; that's what helps you to get there," he said. "It's important to keep the same sort of visualization but not to take it any further because things can change quick."

helliott@tribune.com

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