April 13, 2012
Bruins don't mix sports and politicsPut White House snub behind them
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
BOSTON - When the Boston Bruins travel to Washington for Games 3 and 4 of this first-round Eastern Conference series, you can bet questions about Thomas-Gate will resurface again.
In the outside world, anyway.
What will Tim Thomas' teammates be thinking, the critics will ask, when the Bruins bus drives directly past the White House, where the veteran goalie refused to join his teammates to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in late January?
Will the snub rekindle unwanted attention on the Bruins three months after the fact, especially under the increased spotlight that comes at NHL playoff time?
But here's a newsflash: Right now, the veteran goalie's fellow Bruins couldn't give a rat's rump about the controversy that transpired 12 weeks ago.
When they look back at their crease, they don't see a man who, according to his bashers, pulled a Benedict Arnold by abandoning his team during its audience with the Prez because of his political views.
Instead, they see the defending playoff MVP.
They see a guy who led them to a Stanley Cup 10 months ago.
They see a man who has not allowed a post-season goal in 123 minutes 44 seconds, a run that dates back to Game 6 of the 2011 Cup final against Vancouver.
Most importantly, they see a goaltender whom they feel gives them a legitimate shot to become the first team to repeat as Cup champion since the 1997 and '98 Detroit Red Wings.
Thomas underscored that point by posting a 1-0 overtime shutout over the Caps in Game 1 Thursday at the TD Garden. Sure, he faced only 17 shots, but his third period toe save on Alex Ovechkin was a game-saver.
"I haven't talked to anyone on the team, but I'm sure they have confidence in me, especially with what we did last spring," Thomas told QMI Agency Friday. "But (Thursday) night I wanted to go out there and re-instil their confidence in me."
Thomas did exactly that, helping the Bruins take a 1-0 lead in the series heading into Game 2 Saturday afternoon at the Garden.
Whatever side you take in the goalie's decision to shun the White House and his subsequent comments on Facebook, perhaps the most ridiculous suggestion was that the team might stop playing in front of him because of the negative publicity he generated.
Were some players and management types irked at Thomas for creating unwanted attention for the l'affaire White House? Of course.
Having said that, general manager Peter Chiarelli was never concerned that Bruins would quit on Thomas, even though various reports indicated that was why the Bruins went into a losing funk shortly after the episode.
"I wasn't worried something like that might happen, even though some people on the outside claimed Tim's struggles shortly after the White House thing were because of that," Chiarelli told QMI. "I knew Tim had strong beliefs a long time before the White House thing came up. So did his teammates.
"He didn't avoid the White House to show up his teammates. It's what he believed. I think the only time some of our players got irritated about the whole thing was when they kept getting asked about it afterward."
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara told QMI the Thomas situation never became a polarizing, potentially team-eroding issue.
"We all have different personalities off the ice," Chara said. "If he believes in something off the ice that some guys don't, that's his right. We respect his decision. We would never say: 'Hey, we're not going to play hard in front of him because we don't agree with him.'
"For example, if guys want to say about me: 'Look at that geek who is taking part in the Tour de France,' well, that's fine too," Chara, who has ridden stages of the Tour, said with a laugh.
"The important thing is that we watch each other's backs out on the ice. That's what matters.
"We believe in Tim."
For good reason.