PITTSBURGH — Dwayne Roloson cracked a smile. Not only that, he cracked a joke.
Roloson usually is stoic after games. But after a monster effort Wednesday night in a 1-0 victory over the Penguins in the seventh and deciding game of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal, it was time to have some fun.
Asked by a reporter if he ever considered winning a Game 7 with a shutout, Roloson quipped good-naturedly:
"Do you ever go in there writing an article and figure you're going to win the Nobel Peace prize?"
Okay, so Roloson's reference points were a little off, but you get the idea.
Sean Bergenheim scored the winner 5:41 into the second period on a neat give-and-go play with Dominic Moore that worked for the second straight game, and the Lightning penalty kill continued its impressive run, going 5-for-5 and 34-of-35 in the series.
But it was Roloson who was the difference-maker as Tampa Bay, with its third straight win and third road victory, won its first playoff series since the 2004 Stanley Cup final and became the 24th NHL team to win a seven-game series after trailing three games to one.
It faces Southeast Division rival Washington in the conference semifinals beginning Friday at the Verizon Center.
Roloson, 41, always square to the puck, made 36 saves and out-dueled Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury as Tampa Bay was outshot for the seventh time in the series, 36-23 and 257-180 overall.
His second playoff shutout made him 6-0 in his career in elimination games and 2-0 in Game 7s. His .949 save percentage leads the playoffs among goalies with more than 100 minutes, and his 1.77 goals-against average is second to Washington's Michal Neuvirth.
"His performance speaks for itself," center Steven Stamkos said. "The numbers he put up were ridiculous. Words can't express how much he meant to our team this year."
"What can I say," Bergenheim said, "He was our MVP for this series."
So, in a sense, was assistant coach Wayne Fleming, who is not with the team while being treated for brain cancer.
"We dedicated the series and this game to him," coach Guy Boucher said. "One of the reasons we won this series was because of the penalty kill, and Wayne was taking care of it all year, so he deserves a lot of the credit."
So much so that the puck the Penguins gave the Lightning after the game to commemorate the win will go to Fleming, Boucher said.
Roloson's ability and Fleming's penalty kill came together in the final 1:33 of the third period.
With Lightning center Nate Thompson called for slashing and Fleury pulled, the Penguins played six-on-four. With 34.7 seconds left, Roloson stopped Kris Letang's shot and then four rebound whacks at the puck from James Neal, leaving the crowd of 18,507 at the Consol Energy Center screaming with frustration.
"He certainly came up big for his team," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
His monologue, not so much, so Roloson went back to his normal routine.
"It's one of those things that didn't have anything to do with me," he said of the shutout. "It was all about our guys. We played our style and played our system to get through this as a team."
That's well worth a smile.