TAMPA — The usual process when trying to find holes in an opposing goaltender's game is to study video to evaluate tendencies and quirks.
But when it comes to solving Tim Thomas, video doesn't provide many clues. The Bruins goalie, Lightning players and coaches said Monday at the St. Pete Times Forum, is so unconventional he doesn't have a style to critique.
"An enigma," coach Guy Boucher said.
"He could do one thing on one shot and the next play it's going to be exactly the same shot and he's going to do something else," left wing Simon Gagne said. "He's really tough to understand."
And so good, Gagne said, the Lightning's "biggest challenge" in the Eastern Conference final will be to "stop Thomas."
"We could play amazing and he could stone us," Boucher said. "We're expecting him to be what he is — outstanding."
Thomas, 37, who actually was in Lightning training camp before the 1999-2000 season, which he spent with Detroit of the old International Hockey League, has been just that.
The Flint, Mich., native is the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as the league's top regular-season goalie after going 35-11-9 with an NHL record .938 save percentage, a league-best 2.00 goals-against average and a career-best nine shutouts.
His 2.03 goals-aga inst average in 11 playoff games and .937 save percentage are second in the postseason to Tampa Bay's Dwayne Roloson.
"What I like about Tim right now is he is very confident," Bruins coach Claude Julien told Boston reporters. "He seems very calm as well, not overly busy in net. But when he is busy, it's because he's making a big save."
So, how do you solve an enigma?
"It's hard," Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier said. "You don't really know his tendencies because he's, I don't want to say he's all over the place, but he's just different. He always makes saves in different positions. The thing we know is he's very aggressive. We have to take advantage of that.
"You've got to make sure he can't come out as much as he does and have guys in front of the net. It comes down to putting the puck in the (crease) and plugging away in there and have some sticks in there and more than one guy. It comes down to having screens and making sure we have guys there."
In other words, center Dominic Moore said, "We have to focus on our mentality and not focus too much on his style, per se. Just do what we need to do to get pucks in there and rebounds."
For Thomas, 10-4-0 against the Lightning with a 2.26 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, the worry is Tampa Bay's transition game.
"They'll counterattack," he said. "They'll attack off the rush if they get the opportunity. If all else fails, the pretty plays, they'll get the puck to the net. They have guys who will crash the net."
That is when Thomas' athleticism and competitiveness will come into play.
"It's his battle level," said Lightning wing Marty St. Louis, Thomas' teammate from 1993 to 1997 at the University of Vermont. "He's got his own style. He's unpredictable. You don't know what he's going to do. But I know he's going to compete."
Which probably looks pretty good on video.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]