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No doubt, Tampa Bay Lightning must go with Dwayne Roloson in goal

It is Roloson. Of course it is Roloson.

It is Roloson because he is rested, and because he is ready, and because he is resilient.

It is Roloson because this is his team, and this is his net, and by all that is logical, this should be his game.

It is Roloson because he has been the Lightning's best goalie every day of this postseason but two, so why shouldn't he start the biggest game of the season?

Perhaps you expected a controversy. Perhaps you expected a last-second decision. Perhaps you thought Lightning coach Guy Boucher might spend another day playing Guess the Goalie.

Instead, the answer of who will start in goal for the Lightning's next playoff game was swift and simple.

"Dwayne Roloson,'' said Boucher on Tuesday, quick as a pad save.

And really, was there another choice?

Once again the season has returned to the edge of a cliff, where the Lightning evidently enjoys the view so much it should invest in a condo. Once more it is up to the team to win or go home. One more time the team's immediate future has been placed gently into the hands of a goaltender.

The more you think about it, isn't that Roloson's job? Isn't a game like this why the Lightning traded for him in the first place?

In a situation like this, hasn't Roloson earned your trust?

"Think of the wins he's had,'' Boucher said. "All of the moments.''

Granted, all this was true before Game 5 against the Bruins, too, and darned if Boucher didn't tap Mike Smith on the shoulder. And let's face it: Smith has had a much better series than Roloson, who has been pulled from two games and has allowed a slow-rolling putt to become a goal in two others. Ask yourself: Would Smith have gotten a start if Roloson had looked fresh and fierce in the previous game? No, probably not.

Nevertheless, Smith was the hero of Game 5, and though he didn't win Monday night, he played well enough to win. So, yeah, it's possible to make an argument on Smith's behalf.

The difference between Game 5 and Game 6, however, is enormous. In tonight's game, the Lightning has to stave off the end of the season. For a goaltender, that kind of pressure ought to come with defibrillators hanging on the back of the net.

That's why you return to Roloson. He's 6-0 in elimination games, remember? Smith has never played in one.

In other words, Smith's play isn't being judged here. Circumstance is. Boucher admits that if Smith had played well and won Monday, he would have gotten another start. Why? Because the Lightning would have been ahead 3-2 in the series instead of behind, and Boucher would have been playing with house money.

In a death-row game? That calls for Roloson.

Think of it like this: Smith has had a fine series, but he still has a long way to go before his mental toughness is proven to be on par with Roloson's.

"If Game 5 had been do-or-die, Roli would have been in net,'' Boucher said. "I never lost confidence in Roloson. I just decided to give him a break, to let him breathe. He's going to be the only rested guy on either team.''

Maybe there is something to that. After all, Roloson is 41 and playing a young man's game, and he is a ferocious worker. Maybe a night off will pay off (twice).

Consider: Jan. 14 and 15, Roloson played back-to-back nights and gave up nine goals. After the second loss, Boucher gave his team back-to-back days off, and three days later Roloson won the first of five straight in games he started. During that streak, he had two shutouts.

Then there was the mid February escape when Boucher took his team to South Florida for two days. The Lightning had won only one of its previous four games behind Roloson before the break. Afterward, he won three in a row.

During the regular season, Roloson went in eight times after another goaltender started. He was 5-3 in those games, and in six of them, he allowed two goals or fewer.

In other words, rest seems to do the guy some good.

Who knows? Maybe not playing will do him some good, too.

As much as Roloson says the right thing, there isn't a starting goaltender alive who enjoys being a spectator, especially after a game in which he was pulled in the first period. That can't hurt, either.

"I expect what we've gotten all year,'' Boucher said. "He's a bounce-back guy. He's a warrior.''

And might there be a quick hook if he doesn't play well?

Boucher paused. He grinned.

"We won't need a hook.''

If he does, things might get noisy. Changing goaltenders is like changing quarterbacks. It seems to invite second-guessing. Either the Lightning wins or Boucher started the wrong guy. That's how it works, right?

"The one thing I'm never going to be is a guy who waits for change,'' Boucher said. "I dare. Period. If I feel that's what needs to be done and it's going to give us an edge or a chance, or it's going to give somebody a break, I can't wait because I wonder what it looks like.

"Second-guessing is the nature of the job. If you're trying to please everyone, you're not going to do anything. You can't please everybody.''

Sure you can. Win. Win big. Win often. Win six more games.

Oh, and in the meantime, be right about Roli the Goalie.

No doubt, Tampa Bay Lightning must go with Dwayne Roloson in goal 05/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 26, 2011 9:27pm]
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