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Tampa Bay Lightning goalies strive to earn trust of coach Guy Boucher

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Lightning goaltender Mike Smith was having a blast Saturday after making 29 saves in Tampa Bay's 2-1 victory over the Sabres.

You could hear it in his uplifted voice. You could see it as he clowned with teammates in the HSBC Arena locker room.

But even as Smith had one foot in party mode, the other was in reality. Neither he nor fellow goalie Dan Ellis have done enough to earn coach Guy Boucher's trust, Smith said above the celebratory music.

And it's not just stats — an .886 combined save percentage that entered Sunday tied for the league's worst, and a 3.18 goals-against average that was 25th out of 30 despite Tampa Bay being fourth-best in the league with an average 28 shots allowed.

Inconsistency has caused a relay in net. Only once has a Lightning goalie made three straight starts, and Ellis was pulled from the third, Thursday against the Flyers, after allowing four goals on 10 shots.

"Any time there's new people coming in, you want to make a good impression," Smith said. "We haven't grabbed the ball and run with it."

"We have to earn his confidence and earn his respect," Ellis said of Boucher. "Right now, because of the way the games have gone — we've had good games, bad games, lots of goals, no goals — it's not there yet."

How interesting then that Tampa Bay tonight faces the Bruins with goalies Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask, who entered Sunday second and third, respectively, in the league with .954 and .939 save percentages and with a combined league-low 1.82 goals-against average.

"That's something as a goalie you always take pride in," Ellis said of stats. "But if you get so worried about it, you start to let in goals because you're worried about something totally different. You have to allow your focus to remain on the right things."

Ellis called that "the process," which includes taking away shooting angles, stopping first shots, smothering rebounds and short-circuiting opponents' "momentum opportunities."

"If they're getting a little flurry or on a power play, you want to slow them down," Ellis said.

More support would help, wing Ryan Malone said, as Tampa Bay lately has been hurt by back-door goals that better team defense might have stopped.

"We take care of the puck in front of them, they're going to stop the first shot," he said.

Still, Boucher said: "We don't want to build excuses for ourselves. … Their work ethic is there. Their attitude is there. It's the consistency in their focus that will give them the consistency in their games.

"It's not that I don't trust them. I do because they go in net and I expect them every game to do well. It's being able to do consistently what they do best."

That is why Saturday's game was so important as Smith combined 14 straight saves to end the 8-7 win over the Flyers with saves on 29 of 30 shots against the Sabres (the .977 save percentage well above his season .879).

"We're on the right track to being consistent," Smith said. "When you win games (such as against Buffalo), it's a huge confidence-builder. But when you get another chance to play, you've got to back that up."

It's a matter of trust.

MINOR MOVES: Defenseman Mike Vernace and left wing Johan Harju were reassigned to AHL Norfolk.

Tampa Bay Lightning goalies strive to earn trust of coach Guy Boucher 11/21/10 [Last modified: Sunday, November 21, 2010 10:47pm]

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