Why Going Back to Dwayne Roloson Was the Only Answer for Tampa Bay Lightning

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIMay 24, 2011

Dwayne Roloson congratulates Mike Smith on his first playoff victory.
Dwayne Roloson congratulates Mike Smith on his first playoff victory.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It's nothing against Mike Smith, who played a good game Monday night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but the move had to be made.

Dwayne Roloson will start Wednesday night's elimination game against the Boston Bruins. It was the only choice, really.

With their playoff lives on the line, the Tampa Bay Lightning are going to the goaltender that brought them to this point in the first place. Without Roloson, Tampa Bay would not be in the playoffs. They wouldn't have outlasted the Pittsburgh Penguins or swept the Washington Capitals.

Roloson has struggled a bit in this series, but at 41 years old, he may have been running out of gas.

"He needed a little break like everybody else," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said to the St. Pete Times, "Whether you're a goaltender, defenseman or forward, I know players on both sides are getting more tired as the series are evolving. And it's normal. Everybody's expecting that. And your most important player is your goaltender. So he'll be rested."

If Roloson's batteries have recharged, he's without question the Lightning's best hope at extending the series.

Boston's Tim Thomas stole his second game of the series with a sensational performance in Game 5. Thomas seems to have the ability to neutralize Tampa Bay's speed advantage in the series.

Coming into the Conference Finals, the Lightning had one of the most potent power plays in the playoffs but in this series, Tampa Bay hasn't scored on the man advantage in three games (2-for-18 for the series) and were shut out for 59 minutes after scoring the opening goal at the 1:09 mark.

The Lightning outshot Boston 34-20 and controlled play most of the night, but Thomas was up to the challenge.

That hasn't always been the case for the Boston netminder, who has also been inconsistent. He's surrendered four or more goals in three of the contests in this series.

When he's on, it's almost impossible to get a goal behind him.

Smith, while a solid goaltender, isn't the kind of goalie that can match Thomas save-for-save, as we found out on Monday.

Roloson can be that guy. Despite his recent slump, he still has the second best save percentage among goaltenders with at least 10 playoff games.

Of course, he can't do it by himself. Tampa Bay's big three—Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier—has managed three points (and just an empty net goal) in the last three games.

If you're keeping count—that's the Lightning's top goaltender and three top goal scorers mired in slumps.

"Obviously, we've got to be there; we've got to do more,'' St. Louis told the Tampa Tribune. "And we are working hard. We're just not getting rewarded at certain times. We're trying to do the best we can, but sometimes the best we can is not enough, so you just have to stay the course and keep playing.

"But I know we're being counted on. And it's not the first time we've been in this situation. We need guys to step up and I expect to step up and be there for my team, just like Vinny does and Stammer does. I know if we give ourselves a chance, we'll give our team a chance.''

If he can get that support, Roloson has a history of playing his best when his team is facing its playoff mortality. In elimination games, he is a remarkable 6-0, including three games this season.

If he can keep his streak going, Boucher is going to look brilliant for giving his top netminder the rest he needed. If he doesn't, then some will question whether the Lightning sacrificed a game without their best goaltender in the lineup.