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Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson keeps a steady focus for playoffs

PITTSBURGH

It almost is comical asking Dwayne Roloson if certain circumstances affect his emotions or focus on the ice.

Any scenario presented elicits the same deadpan response.

It's no surprise, then, that the Lightning goaltender brushed off the idea he faces added pressure heading into tonight's first-round playoff opener with the Penguins at Consol Energy Center.

"There's no added focus at all," he said. "Me trying too hard is not going to help our team win. When you try too hard, the puck usually ends up in your net. Just go out and focus on what you have to do and be ready to play when you get the opportunity."

Roloson is fudging.

Whether he admits it or not, goalie is the most important position during the playoffs, when teams can ride a hot one to places no one expected.

Roloson lived that in 2006, when, as a trade-deadline acquisition, he led the Oilers, the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, to the Stanley Cup final.

A knee injury in Game 1 ended his season, and Edmonton lost in seven games to the Hurricanes. But the experience cemented Roloson's tendency toward understated intensity.

"The biggest thing I took out of it was once the game was over, you forget about it right away," he said. "It's over. You can't do anything about it. The quicker you get to that realization, the better."

That is not indifference. "He wants to win," defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron said.

"He likes to practice hard and doesn't take anything for granted. He's a good leader on this team."

And given the way 2006 ended, and that until January of this year Roloson was with the Islanders, one of the league's worst teams, the 41-year-old called his opportunity with Tampa Bay "a new lease on life."

• • •

How important is a hot goaltender in the playoffs? "You feel a little bit like you're invincible," said Bergeron, Roloson's teammate with the Oilers. "For whatever reason, you find a way to win every game. It seems like you can't do anything wrong."

Roloson — 18-12-4 with the Lightning, with four shutouts, a 2.56 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage — has done that since he was acquired from New York for minor-league defenseman Ty Wishart.

He has impressed with his positioning, a matter of practice and awareness; and fitness, a product of intense training.

Most important: He fixed a position that, for the season's first three months, was Tampa Bay's black hole.

"He's been great since the first day he's been here," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "He gives us a chance every night — just very, very steady."

"I think he's been our best player," left wing Simon Gagne said. "You want a goalie who can give you confidence and make big saves when you need them. Roli can do that for us."

Roloson has been equally steady in the playoffs, with a career 18-12-0 record, a 2.56 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.

It was that magical run with Edmonton, though — in which he was 12-5-0 with a 2.33 goals-against average, a .927 save percentage and a shutout before getting hurt — that is the high point of his career and, given the injury, the most painful.

That is why the opportunity with Tampa Bay is so special.

"He knows he doesn't have that many years left," coach Guy Boucher said. "To have an opportunity to be in the playoffs with a good team, he's told me many times he feels like he's been blessed."

• • •

Craig MacTavish chuckled when asked if Roloson, the league's second-oldest player behind Boston's Mark Recchi (43), had the physical and mental stamina to handle a playoff run. As the Oilers' coach in 2006, he was asked the same question.

"Common sense and knowledge would preclude him from being able to do what he's doing, but he's doing it," said MacTavish, now a television analyst for Canada's TSN network. "I think the focus that he has is almost unparalleled. He's really learned how to apply himself in that regard. He's just a completely different guy when he's preparing to play. He reaches a level of intensity that not many goaltenders can get to."

And that is just one step.

Roloson's workout program, designed by California fitness expert Scot Prohaska, is well known. But Roloson, under the direction of Mark Gordon, a Kenmore, N.Y., optometrist he met while playing for the Sabres, also exercises his eyes.

"We're looking at reaction times, peripheral awareness," Gordon said. "We're looking at all the visual components to perform well. If you only get to see a puck for a brief moment, you have to be able to process a lot of information in a very brief moment. So we have a lot of close visual abilities that come into play. We're doing all these time-space calculations based on a brief moment."

Roloson does work with a Brock String, a 20-foot-long cord with beads that can be spaced at differing intervals. "We focus from bead to bead," Gordon said, "getting the eyes to line up, in focus and getting it clear, understanding the distance as quickly and efficiently as possible."

Roloson bounces and catches balls off a wall in dim light. He practices in the summer with a white puck smaller than a regulation puck. "When we change the activity by making it more difficult, on the ice it becomes a lot easier to do," Gordon said.

Not that anything is easy about the playoffs, a place Roloson hasn't been since 2006.

"I know how hard it is to get there," he said. "It's something you have to take advantage of when you get the opportunity. You never know when it's going to happen again."

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson keeps a steady focus for playoffs 04/13/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 8:13pm]
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