We knew Tim Thomas would leave with some hardware tonight. It was just a matter of how much cargo he’d be taking home.

Barring a Roberto Luongo-esque flop job, Thomas was winning the Conn Smythe tonight even in a losing cause. He would have become only the sixth player in NHL history to take the playoff MVP trophy home, and leave the cup behind.

Now Thomas has to make room for both, and somehow we doubt he minds missing out on history that requires losing. He’ll settle for a different kind of history that saw his unorthodox but effective style lead the Bruins to their first championship in 39 years.

The mind more readily remembers the most recent observations and experiences. That’s why tonight, as we watched Thomas blank Vancouver for the second time and earn his fourth shutout of the playoffs, it’s easy to forget that only one round ago he began to look like a 37-year-old goalie. During the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay–another grueling series that needed seven games–Thomas allowed 21 goals. He reverted to his status as Boston’s impenetrable wall when needed, shutting out the Lightning twice, most notably in Game 7. But some holes had been poked in that wall, and some mild concern began bubbling.

Seven games and one championship later, Thomas allowed only eight goals against Vancouver, showing that his performance in the spring of 2011 will go down as one that was equal parts resilience and brilliance. He finishes the playoffs with a save percentage of .935, and a GAA of 2.06, feats made even remarkable when we look back on Thomas’ regular season and his save percentage of .938 that set an NHL record.

Thomas’ long, winding road to the NHL has been told and re-told, with his journey through nine different hockey outposts on both sides of the Atlantic eventually leading to a consistent starting NHL gig when he was the ripe age of 30. That journey made his moment with the Conn Smythe Trophy pretty special.

We’re not much for tissues and tears around here, so we’ll just let you watch and hug someone special.

What was the difference between the Tim Thomas at the Rogers Arena in Game 7, and the Tim Thomas during the other three games on the left coast? Absolutely nothing. Of those three losses in Vancouver, two of them were by just one goal. The victory-defining difference had little to do with any change in Thomas’ play, and everything to do with the team in front of him.

The Boston offence that blasted the Canucks 17-2 back in the home of Marky Mark finally travelled west. The Bruins scored more goals in this game than they did in the rest of the games in Vancouver combined (2). I shouldn’t say I told you so but, well, I told you so.

Along with the rest of his Bruins teammates, Thomas will bring hockey’s sacred silver mug back to Boston, a city that’s now celebrated at least one championship in all four major North American sports over the last 10 years. The Bruins also ensured that another dubious distinction continues north of the border, throwing the dunce cap on Vancouver. The Canucks are the fourth Canadian team in the past decade to lose in a Stanley Cup final, with three of those loses excruciatingly coming in a seven-game series.

Thomas was cheered by the jilted Vancouver crowd as he hoisted the Conn Smythe, and CBC’s Scott Oake asked what he thought of the applause. The bearded ‘tender who now looks far more grizzled than Shea Weber said he appreciated the respect.

See! He does like getting his tires pumped!