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Tampa Bay Lightning turns to Mike Smith for surprise start in goal

Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson, right, looks on from the bench during Game 5. Monday’s game in Boston was the first Roloson sat out in this season’s playoffs. He entered Monday with the fourth-best goals-against average in the playoffs.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson, right, looks on from the bench during Game 5. Monday’s game in Boston was the first Roloson sat out in this season’s playoffs. He entered Monday with the fourth-best goals-against average in the playoffs.

BOSTON — As surprising as it might have been, Lightning coach Guy Boucher's decision to start backup G Mike Smith in Monday's Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final was not made in a vacuum.

Among those Boucher consulted was general manager Steve Yzerman.

"We discuss everything," Yzerman said. "And I support him 100 percent."

While Yzerman was well aware Smith would make his first career playoff start, most people on the outside (including the Bruins) didn't know until the 29-year-old led the team out for pregame warmups.

That's a crafty bit of gamesmanship by Boucher, who made the goalie situation an intriguing question mark.

Boucher had been very cryptic in his comments about the subject ever since Smith was stellar in relief efforts of No. 1 G Dwayne Roloson in Saturday's 5-3 comeback victory over the Bruins. Roloson had been pulled from two of the previous three games (when he has had a 5.64 goals against average), but it was still thought the 41-year-old would get the nod Monday.

No clues were given during the morning skate. Typically, the goaltender who comes off the ice first is the one that starts.

While Roloson came off first, Smith was almost immediately after and didn't do any extra work with the scratches.

When Boucher was asked in his post-practice news conference if Roloson was starting, he said, "We're preparing like usual. He's preparing like he prepared for all the other games. So we're prepared."

Asked why he would not just come out and say who was in net, Boucher repeated, "He's prepared. He's done the morning skate like usual. … We had a good talk; he knows what's coming up."

Roloson also offered little, smiling and saying, "I'm preparing like I'm playing like always."

Roloson is a big reason the Lightning is here, becoming a steadying force since his acquisition in January, and he entered this round leading the league in goals-against average. But Smith stepped up in Games 2 and 4, stopping all 29 shots he faced, including 21 on Saturday.

Without giving anything away Monday morning, Roloson appeared to understand the coaches' situation. "Nobody has ever questioned what our coaching staff and management have done," Roloson said. "Ever since I've been here, it's been amazing. They're all players, they've been through it, they know what the situations are. So they're going to do whatever it takes to win hockey games."

MEDICAL MATTERS: RW Steve Downie, whose head hit the glass and bounced off the ice after he was hit by Nathan Horton in the second period of Game 4, was in the lineup Monday, logging 16:56. He was called for a boarding penalty in the third period for a hit that caused Bruins D Johnny Boychuk to leave the game.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said Boychuk is "fine" but reserved judgment on Downie's hit.

"I haven't watched it on video yet," Julien said. "I know some people have. And from what I hear, it's not a great hit."

question mark: The Lightning took a blow with LW Sean Bergenheim missing the final two periods with an undisclosed injury.

Bergenheim, who leads the playoffs with nine goals, played just 4 minutes, 19 seconds, a noticeable absence on the team's third line. Boucher said they'll have to wait and see before determining his status for Wednesday's Game 6.

"Obviously, that hurt us," Boucher said. "He's one of those guys that's been terrific for us. Right now, we couldn't put him back on the ice, and we didn't want to take a chance it would get worse."

Times staff writer Damian Cristodero contributed to this report.

Tampa Bay Lightning turns to Mike Smith for surprise start in goal 05/23/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 12:34am]
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