Leading up to Wednesday's Game 1, Puck Daddy's Sean Leahy and Greg Wyshynski are previewing every facet of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks— on the ice and off the ice.
One goaltender stands at his end of the rink with much to prove and critics to silence; the other basks in the love thrown his way and hasn't felt much of an ounce of pressure outside of himself.
That's the story of Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas as the two square off in what could be a series full of goaltending duels.
Luongo's been the guy with the sky-high expectations and even after winning a gold medal for Canada at the 2010 Olympics, is still doubted to be able to win "the big game."
While the Chicago Blackhawks were the nightmare that seemed to never go away come playoff time, Luongo vanquished them in seven games and since has quietly breezed his way to the Cup Final, four wins away from proving a lot of doubters wrong.
A journeyman turned likely two-time Vezina Trophy nominee, everyone loves Tim Thomas. Friendly with the media, emotional on the ice and a guy who's worked himself into an elite netminder, it's tough not to like Thomas. A Stanley Cup ring coupled with a second Vezina Trophy would cap off a great rebound year for Thomas, who had watched every Bruins playoff game last season from the bench.
Which team has the advantage in goal for the Stanley Cup Finals?
Thomas hopes he's seen the last of what the Tampa Bay Lightning threw at him in the Conference Final. Four of the seven games saw the Lightning put four or more goals past Thomas, something that happened just once in the first two rounds. But as Thomas said during the series against the Lightning, when Boston plays "Bruins Hockey" -- a controlled pace dictating the play -- that's when the 37-year old is at his best.
It's no surprise that in the three games against Tampa that featured games with four totals goals or less, the Bruins won. When the team in front of him is playing within themselves and responsibly, Thomas is able to remain positionally sound -- not needing Hasekian-like saves -- to win.
Going up against the Canucks will be no easy task for Thomas and the Bruins. He'll need to play much better than he did against the Lightning, because Luongo and the Canucks have not looked falty in two rounds.
He might win the Stanley Cup but never get the credit he might earn along the way. That's just the way things seem set in place for Roberto Luongo. After denying the Chicago Blackhawks an historic comeback in the first round, Luongo rebounded, looked forward and won eight of his next 11 games to put Vancouver in the Final.
Since failure against the Blackhawks in the playoffs was no longer a story, Luongo's Achilles' heel became his penchant for bad goals, but two more series wins pushed those grasping for straws to the side.
Now Luongo faces his final and toughest obstacle to finally shed the label of "best goalie who can't win the big game." He and Thomas share 2.29 goals-against averages, each have two shutouts and are separated by .007 in save-percentage.
What's made Luongo stronger, as the playoffs have gone longer, is his ability to win the close game. Only one of Luongo's 12 playoff wins have been by more than two goals. We're seeing a new postseason Roberto Luongo these days and we can likely pinpoint getting over that first round hump as the key reason why.
Luongo's played better since the first round and while Thomas struggled against the Lightning, both goaltenders can be relied upon to win the big game. Thomas has two Game 7 wins under his belt these playoffs, while Luongo has one.
The Canucks have played better in front of Luongo than the Bruins have in front of Thomas of late and that'll be a factor with how each performs.