They are the netminders for teams with arguably the most heated rivalry in all of sport, Tim Thomas and Carey Price toil under the weighty expectations which accompany being the cornerstone of their team’s success. The environment is one which thrusts them onto center stage each time they step on the ice; each save, miscue, and goal is examined under the white hot spotlight of Montreal and Boston fan bases who accept nothing but perfection from their goaltenders. It would seem easy for for Thomas and Price to exhibit the same intense hatred and contempt often displayed by their rabid fans, yet both rise above the swirling madness which surrounds them on and off the ice, much the same way they remain composed under a barrage of shots during the most heated contests. Thomas and Price display not only a healthy respect for one another’s work, but they went out of their way in the media to praise the play of the other in a series for the ages this year. Heck, even in the “goalie fight” this season when they squared off, Price resisted the likely urge to destroy his feisty nemesis, and they parted ways sharing wry smiles. They get it. They fight for their team, they battle, they win, they lose, but above all they share a mutual respect for each other. Perhaps there are no two players in the league who have more cause to get lost in the bitter rivalry which surround them, than Thomas and Price yet they manage to rise above it possess the mental toughness necessary to be successful in two of the toughest places in the league to play.
Enter Roberto Luongo. The man with an ego as fragile as fine china, and despite great skill is so uncomfortable in his own skin that often watching him is at once both puzzling and painful. Luongo has refined technique but the door to his “kitchen” is a swinging one. He possesses the physical skills to be an elite goalie in the NHL, but his stunning lack of mental toughness often makes it challenging for him to earn respect for his physical abilities. He plays goal for one of the most potent offensive teams in the league, an embarrassment of riches for a goalie with his talent and abilities. Yet he struggles, often on the biggest of stages, he has nary the sustained pressures nor the challenges of Thomas and Price, yet inexplicably after righting his listing ship in the Stanley Cup Finals he chooses to take a shot across the bow of Thomas and his play after game 5. Could he really be so completely devoid of self-confidence that despite his team being ahead in the series 3-2 he would chose to go out of his way to poke the bear that mauled him last week?
In this series, with his team UP two games to none, Luongo made 46 saves on 58 shots, surrendering 12 goals and being pulled. With his team’s back against the wall in those same two games, Thomas made 78 saves on 79 shots. In the series, Luongo has made 141 saves, on 155 shots, while Thomas has made 161 saves on 165 shots. When his team has needed him most, Thomas has stood tall, as he has all season and throughout these playoffs. Thomas continues to be the Bruins’ most valuable player, and in the 3 games after losing their most consistent and viable scoring threat in Nathan Horton, all Thomas has done is allowed 2 goals on 104 shots. Yet instead of celebrating his team’s strong skating and physical performance in the Canucks’ game 5 win Luongo elected to take a snipe at Thomas and his aggressive style, which has stymied the vaunted offensive juggernaut.
Thomas and Price go out of their way to praise the play of their teammates after winning performances, and shoulder blame in games where it would be easy to point a finger. Both have a deep respect and understanding for what it means to shoulder the hopes and dreams of deeply passionate fan bases, and not only rise to the challenge but do it in a way that often shames their fans into recognition of what the other has accomplished. Canucks fans cheered Luongo’s departure from Game 4 in the Stanley Cup final, and then celebrate his “genius” against a Bruins’ team that was in reality stifled by a Vancouver team who was determined to recapture home ice. Did Luongo contribute to his team’s success? Without question, but make no mistake, there is no way Luongo would survive under the crushing scrutiny of netminders in either Montreal or Boston.
Thomas and Price are not only exciting players, with talent worthy of the praise and adulation of their fans. However their willingness to publically and genuinely admire and appreciate their opponent while savoring the battle, puts them among a class of elite goaltenders which Roberto Luongo can only hope to someday reach. If Luongo’s name is engraved on the Cup this week he will not have earned an iota of additional respect from fans throughout the league, not because he is “undervalued” but because he has not yet learned that what fans already know, Luongo is not in the same class of Price and Thomas.
About the Author: NHL Blogger, a fan of the Boston Bruins for 40 years, mom to the famous/notorious Bruins dog blogger, The Pup. The Pup is a savvy hockey dog in search of cookies (the jar is on the top shelf).