One year ago, Tim Thomas sat on the Boston Bruins' bench and watched as the Philadelphia Flyers came back from a 3-0 series deficit in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and eliminated the Bruins.
It was the end of a miserable season for Thomas, whose effectiveness was limited by a hip injury. He lost the No. 1 goalie job to backup Tuukka Rask.
But as Thomas had done for his entire career, he fought back; and one year after watching his team fail in spectacular fashion, he raised the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP following the Bruins' 4-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 -- the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 39 years.
A ninth-round pick by the Quebec Nordiques in 1994, Thomas didn't play his first NHL game until the 2002-03 season after bouncing around the minor leagues and spending parts of four seasons in Europe. Some would have quit after being unable to achieve their goals right away, but that's not Thomas' style. He's always been a fighter; whether it's outside or inside his crease.
An aggressive and emotional player, Thomas' style defined this Boston Bruins team: a hard-nosed, gritty bunch that may not play the sexiest brand of hockey, but in the end, their play stands out and gets the job done.
As each game of the Final passed and the Bruins clawed their way back into the series after falling into a 2-0 hole, it quickly became evident that there was only one choice for the Conn Smythe Trophy, win or lose.
It was Tim Thomas and Tim Thomas alone.
Even as the Vancouver Canucks took a 2-0 series lead and then were a win away from the Cup after Game 5, Thomas' play stood out and he became not only the MVP of the Bruins, but of these playoffs.
He finishes with that elusive 16th win that only one team gets to celebrate. He finishes with a 1.98 goals-against average and a ridiculous .940 save percentage. He finishes with four shutouts in the playoffs, two of which coming in the Final. He finishes with eight goals allowed in seven Cup games.
And there's a good chance he'll finish the season with a trio of trophies at next week's NHL Awards. One week from Wednesday night, the 37-year-old Thomas will likely take home the Vezina Trophy; and along with the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup, he'll become the first goaltender to win all three since 1974 and 1975 when Bernie Parent of the Flyers achieved the feat back-to-back.
If you stay your lane long enough, you'll eventually reach your destination.
For Tim Thomas, it was a long and winding road, but Wednesday night he finally arrived.