It was just over a year ago when these two goaltenders last faced each other in Vancouver with a championship on the line. Roberto Luongo was a goaltender for Team Canada. Tim Thomas was a member of the United States team. The difference was that Luongo was in net, having taken the starting job from Martin Brodeur a few games earlier. Thomas was on the bench, watching Ryan Miller play goal. That day Luongo’s team won.
Of course, this is a completely different situation now. Roberto Luongo is the goaltender for the Vancouver Canucks. Tim Thomas is in net for the Boston Bruins. Thomas won’t have Zach Parise on his team to tie it up with seconds to go, and Luongo won’t have Sidney Crosby there to score the game winner. Ryan Kesler will be on the ice, but he’ll be on Luongo’s side this time.
However, the fact that the two goalies were chosen to play on their respective national teams and that they’re now facing off in the Stanley Cup Final shows that they are two of the best goaltenders in the league today. Considering many people decided that big money goaltenders don’t matter after last year’s final, it’s great to see two of the best in the league battle it out for the Cup.
So how do Luongo and Thomas compare, heading into the Stanley Cup Final?
During the regular season, Luongo led the league in wins with 38, despite playing only 60 games. Carey Price, Cam Ward and Miikka Kiprusoff (who had 38, 37 and 37 wins respectively) all played more than 70 games. His goals against average was second in the league and he had the fourth-best save percentage.
The playoffs have been a slightly different story. His GAA is fifth-best among eligible goaltenders and he’s ranked sixth in save percentage. Obviously, he’s tied for the league lead in wins with Thomas.
He was pulled in games four and five of the Canucks first round series with the Blackhawks and watched from the bench as Cory Schneider started game six. An injury to Schneider meant Luongo finished game six and started game seven. He hasn’t left the Canucks net since.
Tim Thomas broke the NHL record for best single season save percentage this season, with a .938 save percentage. He also had a league leading goals against average of 2.00. He had 35 wins during the season, which was good enough for ninth place. He also had nine shutouts, which was the second-best total in the league.
During the playoffs, Thomas has had bouts of being spectacular followed by bouts of being simply human. The series against Tampa Bay was likely his worst series, as he allowed five goals in four of those seven games.
However, while there have been a few games where Thomas struggled, he’s a big reason why the Bruins are in the final right now. For all of their talent, it’s tough to picture them in this position without Thomas in net.
The Vancouver Canucks have several advantages over the Bruins, but goaltending may not be one of them. While Luongo is certainly a strong goaltender when he’s at the top of his game, Thomas has the ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on a somewhat regular basis.
And he’ll need to steal at least a game or two if the Bruins hope to win the Stanley Cup. If Thomas simply plays at Luongo’s level, or if Luongo steps up his game and Thomas does not, the Cup will be going to Vancouver. Only if Thomas performs at a higher level than Luongo do the Bruins realistically stand a chance.
Can Thomas do that?
This has been his best season to date, both statistically and in terms of team success. However, he struggled in Boston’s last series, while Luongo put on strong performances against the Predators and Sharks in rounds two and three. While momentum may not be everything, it seems like Luongo has it.
Thomas will need to get it back if he wants to hoist the Cup.