When Lightning goalie Mike Smith took over for Dwayne Roloson in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals after Roloson allowed three goals on nine shots, it was the sort of move a coach has to make to wake his team up a bit and prevent getting blown out. As it turns out, Smith was just what the doctor ordered as he stopped all 21 shots he saw the rest of the way while the Lightning rallied to beat Boston 5-3 to tie their best of seven game series at 2-2.
As it goes with all great relief appearances, the questions come up about who coach Guy Boucher might lean on to start in Game 5. After all, two of Roloson’s last three appearances have been less-than inspiring and when Smith has been called upon to change things up and stop the bleeding, he’s done so very well. The decision on who start in goal for Game 5 is one that’s got everyone curious and if you’re expecting Boucher to tip his hand, you probably haven’t seen too much of how he works things in the press.
From today’s post-practice press conference, Boucher didn’t give anything away about who he’s leaning on to try and get the Lightning closer to another Stanley Cup final appearance.
Q. Is Dwayne Roloson going to be your starting goalie tonight?
COACH BOUCHER: We’re preparing like usual. He’s preparing like he prepared for all the other games. So we’re prepared.
Q. Why will you not just say for sure whether he’s going to start or not? Is there a competitive advantage not to say, yes, he will be our starter?
COACH BOUCHER: He’s prepared. He got out. He’s done his morning skate like usual. He prepared yesterday. We had a good talk. And he knows what’s coming up.
I wonder if Dwayne Roloson is prepared for the game. I guess we’ll never know.
Playing cheeky about who’s going to start the game is a game we’ve seen from Flyers coach Peter Laviolette in these playoffs and seeing it from Boucher here it just feels like he’s messing with everyone out to find an angle on a potentially huge story in the playoffs that’s not likely to come. For what it’s worth, Roloson was the first goalie off the ice during practice, a general indication of who the starter will be. Of course, Mike Smith followed him off immediately next. Feel free to draw your own conclusions there.
Hey, coaches have to make their own fun when they’ve got the chance to. If Boucher taps Smith to be tonight’s starter that would be a stunning turn of events as we’ve seen Roloson carry the team through the regular season and playoffs to this point. Unless Roloson has something physically nagging at him or he’s lost his confidence somehow, we’re not expecting that Boucher will deviate from the plan. After all, lineup changes have been minimal for Tampa Bay.
That’s not to say there isn’t evidence to back up a potential switch, however, as Damian Cristodero points out.
Roloson, who entered the series leading the playoffs with a 2.01 goals-against average and .947 save percentage, is 0-2 in his past three games with a 5.64 goals-against average and .820 save percentage. Even so, goaltender coach Frantz Jean said Roloson has been technically correct in net and has just got caught up in the ups and downs of hos the team is playing. Smith has stopped all 29 shots he has faced in the series, and Tampa Bay has outscored Boston 7-0 while Smith has played.
Dig out your small sample size arguments here to combat the thought that Smith might start, but that could just point to the Lightning getting the message when Roloson gets pulled from a game: Straighten up and play better. We won’t find out until shortly before tonight’s game as to who gets the start, but if you were a betting type, betting on Roloson would seem like the even money gamble. That is unless we’ve totally misread how Boucher plays his hand.