Number four: Concussions Bergeron and Horton
In the waning moments of the Philadelphia sweep with the TD Garden crowd in full roar and doubt dwindling faster than the hopes and dreams of the city of brotherly love, one hit shocked a crowd. Claude Giroux was charging hard in the Bruins defensive end, and is often the case, the first man to the spot was Patrice Bergeron. The alternate captain who after Zdeno Chara is arguably the best defensive player on the team was left on the ice. Bergeron’s first concussion delivered by Randy Jones, and this was like deja vu. He eventually got up and walked off on his own, but no one expected to see him again until October at the very earliest if ever. The hit was not suspended, or even penalized but it would cost him the opening two, very ugly games for the Bruins against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Like the loss of Chara to illness in the first round, his values greatest illustration was his absence.
Two games and two minutes into the Stanley Cup Finals Nathan Horton became part of history. He was on the receiving end of a hit that would not only end his season, but inspire the harshest suspension in Stanley Cup finals history. Aaron Rome got four games insuring he would miss the rest of the series, The hit was late, high, and horrific enough to quiet the loudest building in the NHL. It ripped the newest big body out of the lineup and left a team shaken. He would not return to the ice. As the series swung back and forth and his recovery progressed he appeared at the Garden, and even traveled to Vancouver for game seven. When he got to the arena he did something that will live on in hockey lore for decades.
Between the two concussions, center stage and their huge impact on each series can’t be understated. Bergeron was lucky enough to only miss two games and not suffer noticeably on the ice. Horton has continued to battle some of the timing issues that come with any issue but the price they paid and the contributions they made on and off the ice made them each memorable.
Number Three: Tim Thomas
When you quietly lose your starting job after coming off a Vezina winning season, then come back to be not just the best goalie in the regular season, but break a record most hall of fame goaltender never come close to, it’s pretty hard to top that. Unless of course you’re Davison Michigan, University of Vermont, and alumni of a dozen professional hockey teams, the US Olympic team, and walking talking statistical, anomaly Tim Thomas. After locking up the Vezina trophy sometime before the All Star game a certain amount of coasting could be expected. But no.
After setting record breaking numbers in the regular season. Numbers that easily won him the Vezina, and garnered almost enough MVP talk Tim Thomas did what he’s tried to do every year of his career; take it to another level. He didn’t just maintain his numbers he improved on them. He won three game sevens. Swept the high powered Philadelphia Flyers, allowed just 8 goals to the Presidents Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks, set a record for saves in a Stanley Cup playoff and walked away with the Conn-Smyth and Stanley Cup. As an aperitif along the way he delivered a beating or two, some jaw dropping saves and some great interviews.
Tim Thomas shouted down his critics without ever raising his voice.