It could all end, I guess.
It has to come to a conclusion one of these days, right? Seven titles this century? All four active coaches with championships (which, until now, had never happened)? There are 12 cities in the United States with teams from all four professional sports. The combined title drought of teams in Boston: 12 seasons. (six Pats, three Red Sox/Celtics). The average combined drought of the 11 other cities with (at least) 4 teams: 112 years.
So we are officially in the Golden Age of Boston Sports. This will never be topped, it's just not possible. And the No. 1 reason why the Bruins are now allowed a seat at the champions table is No. 30. Tim Thomas was historically good in the regular season but even better in the playoffs, posting a 1.98 goals-against average, four shutouts and a .940 save percentage (just a hair better than his record-setting .938 mark in the regular season).
We all know about the Game 7 shutouts and firing the puck at the Canucks and pumping tires and the save on Steve Downie but what we maybe don't know is the answer to a question that I don't think anyone expected would ever be asked a year ago:
Beginning to end, was the 2011 performance by Tim Thomas the best postseason ever by an athlete in Boston sports history?
Let's take a look at a man's list of the top five and see where (or if) Thomas ranks ...
5. David Ortiz, 2004
OK, he "only" hit .308 in the World Series, a series the Sox would have won if they had used Adam Hyzdu at DH in all four games. But we all know that there is no chance the Red Sox stage the most improbable comeback in the history of North American sports without David Ortiz homering off of Paul Quantrill in the 12th inning of Game 4, going deep on Tom Gordon in the eighth inning and then delivering Walk Off: The Sequel against Esteban Loaiza (now dealing 84 MPH fastballs for your Mexico City Red Devils) to put Game 5 to bed. Ortiz put up a .387/.457/.742 line in the series, which actually fell short of his .545/.688/1.000 work in the ALDS sweep of Anaheim. There were other heroes in 2004, we all know that, which I suppose is a knock against the idea that Ortiz carried the team through the postseason, but the Yankees series alone earns him a spot in the top five.
4. Bobby Orr, 1972
Coin flip, Orr was brilliant in 1970, but I'll take 1972, where he led the playoffs in assists (19) and scored four goals (including the Cup winner) with four assists in the finals vs. the Rangers to pick up Conn Smythe No. 2. I suspect I'm ranking Orr too low on this list, but this is high cotton territory here and the three guys above him are awfully tough to move.
3. Tom Brady, 2004
Strange that the one Super Bowl win that Brady did not land the MVP came at the end of his best three-game postseason run. It started with a 20-3 win at home over the Colts, a game that at the time seem to close the book on any Brady/Manning debate. Brady completed 18-of-27 passes for 144 yards, one TD and no INT's (92.2 passer rating) on that January day (with the wind chill it was about 15 degrees at kickoff), numbers that don't jump off the page and slap you around, but was the kind of "make no mistakes and let Peyton puke all over himself" special that was starting to feel awfully familiar at that point. It was the AFC Title Game, however, that Brady gave you his version of Ortiz vs. the Yankees, toying with a Steelers (16-1 on the season) defense that was ranked No. 1 in both scoring and total defense. Brady again completed 66.7 percent of his passes (14-of-21, this time with temps in single digits) for 207 yards, two TDs, no INTs and a season-best passer rating of 130.5 in the 41-27 win. And though Deion Branch was I suppose a worthy enough MVP winner in Super Bowl XXXIX, there was probably more than a little Brady fatigue going on with the voters. Brady was 23-of-33 for 236 yards, two TDs and (wait for it) zero picks in the 24-21 win over an Eagles defense that was second only to the Steelers in points allowed (the 110.2 passer rating Brady put up was the second-highest Philly allowed all season, thanks to Kerry Byrne for that stat).
Again, did Brady "carry" the Pats to that Super Bowl? Nope, the defense was terrific against Manning and made stops when they had to against the Steelers and Eagles. And it was Corey Dillon, not Brady, who was the dominant offensive player in the win over Indy, rushing for 144 yards. But Brady dramatically outplayed Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Donovan McNabb with the kind of statistical and eye test edge that gave you the impression if Colts, Steelers and Eagles had Brady and the Pats had the other guy the winner of those games would have been different. Against two of the three best defenses in the NFL (the Colts were 18th), in lousy conditions and on the world's biggest sports stage, Brady completed 68 percent of his passes and threw five touchdowns with no interceptions (passer rating: 109.4). The case for Brady as the greatest quarterback of all time has stalled a little with the three straight playoff losses, but it was planted and started to gain some steam after that run through the playoffs in January/February 2005.
2. Tim Thomas, 2011
In 2004 Brady had Belichick, the defense, Corey Dillon, and had won two of the last three Super Bowls. Bill Russell had a million Hall of Famers (who might not have been Hall of Famers without Russell, but were still damn good players), Red Auerbach and by 1962 (which we'll get to in a minute) had already won four titles. Bobby Orr had Phil Esposito -- one of the top 20 or so players in history -- scoring 133 points in 1972. David Ortiz had Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon. I'm just not sure Tim Thomas had the supporting cast to match the other guys on this list. No knock on Chara, Bergeron and the rest of the crew, but it's not even close. So what we just saw from Thomas over the last couple of months is I think, by definition, the closest example we've ever seen in this city of one player carrying a team to a title.
The Bruins had eight games in this incredible postseason that could be looked at as must win at the time. Games 3, 4 and 7 of the Montreal series, Games 5 (maybe a little reach) and 7 of the Tampa series and Games 3, 4, 6 and 7 against the Canucks (and when I say incredible I mean it -- eight games that at least felt like must wins at the time? I can't think of anything even close). Thomas won all eight and gave up a total of 10 goals.
Look, obviously you can pick from any of the championships Russell won, the guy was the game-changer of all game-changers. But I'll go with 1962, a playoff run that saw the Celtics
beat Wilt and the Warriors in seven games in the Eastern Finals and the West/Baylor Lakers in seven in the NBA Finals
. Russell averaged 22.4 points (his highest ever in the postseason), 26.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists in the playoffs. That's right -- 26.4 rebounds per game (which was only the fourth-highest rebounding average in his playoff career). Here's the thing, though: I'm not even sure that's the most impressive statistic from that playoff run. How about this one: Bill Russell
averaged 48.0 minutes per game in the 1962 playoffs. Shaquille O'Neal
didn't play a total of 48 minutes from February 1 until the end of the Heat series.
And in that Game 7 vs. the Lakers, all Russell managed to do was score 30 points and match his own NBA Finals
record with 40 rebounds (as well as shut down Baylor in the fourth quarter and OT) in the 110-107 overtime victory. There are people way smarter than me about this stuff (I should preface every sentence with that) who will tell you that Russell's 30-40 was the greatest performance in the history of basketball, and I think it's still the standard for Boston postseason efforts.