Dallas Stars: Kari Lehtonen Injury Provides What Could be Tim Thomas’ Final Playoff Push
It’s been a whirlwind year for goalie Tim Thomas.
The 39-year-old ended his one-year hiatus from the NHL last offseason, signing a contract with the Florida Panthers in the fall. Despite having a lot of rust to chip off, Thomas performed admirably for a Panthers team that struggled overall. Knowing he might not have a ton of time left in the league, Thomas revealed he was open to the idea of a trade. This wish was granted last week at the trade deadline, as he was moved from Florida to the Dallas Stars. However, while Thomas was Florida’s starting netminder, it was expected the move to Dallas would designate him as Kari Lehtonen’s backup.
This all changed over the weekend.
Lehtonen was in net during the Stars’ matchup against the Minnesota Wild this past Saturday, but had to leave after a scary collision with Wild forward Erik Haula. The winger charged the net, knocking Lehtonen’s helmet off and leaving the goalie very shaken. Thus, Thomas was called in, stopping all six shots faced during Dallas’ comeback victory. The diagnosis came in soon after; Lehtonen had suffered a concussion. Though he’s listed as day-to-day, Stars coach Lindy Ruff claims his starting goalie is “not doing very well.”
So, currently holding a slight grip on the eighth and final postseason spot in the Western Conference, Dallas turns to Thomas in what could be his last shot at a playoff run.
Though it isn’t guaranteed that this year is Thomas’ swan song, Vegas odds certainly favor it. He turns 40 next month, and who knows how much tread he has left on his tires. A free agent at the end of the season, who’s to say he’s signed by a playoff contender in the offseason, or if he’s even signed at all. Whether or not he returns next season, the mere fact that he went from a dead-in-the-water Panthers team to a Stars club fighting to make the postseason has to light a fire under the veteran goalie.
Despite opening 2014 with six straight losses, the Stars have rebounded, thanks to solid play from Tyler Seguin and burgeoning star Jamie Benn. Though losing Lehtonen would’ve possibly derailed things in any other case, the fact that the team is now turning to a Conn Smythe winning goalie as their backup could very well keep the momentum alive.
Does Thomas have enough energy to toss the Stars on his back and carry them while Lehtonen heals up? Though his age screams no, there is evidence from this season that begs to differ. At one point, the Panthers played Thomas for practically an entire month straight. Granted, this took place in November, when his legs were likely much fresher. Can the same be said now, as the season winds into its final weeks?
We’re all about to find out. Thomas has faced adversity his entire career, from being forced to play overseas to finally getting his shot as a legit starter ten years after leaving college at the age of 31. At surface level, being asked to be the guy Dallas leans on in attempts to clinch a postseason berth shouldn’t be intimidating to him. But to say it’s no problem is one thing, walking the walk is another.
In what could be his final year in the NHL, this could be Thomas’ ride into the sunset. Whether or not that ride includes some playoff games is all dependent on his play in net the next few weeks.