SAN JOSE, Calif. – Since Feb. 1, Dwayne Roloson was basically the forgotten man in Edmonton.
The 38-year-old goalie lost his status as the Edmonton Oilers' starting goaltender to Mathieu Garon, who had outperformed the veteran and is eight years younger. Roloson, who might have been attractive to a contending team at the deadline, wasn't the most economical solution since he carries a $3 million price tag for next season as well.
So Roloson sat, and probably stewed, even though he didn't let that show. About a week ago, Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish approached Roloson and talked about picking a date in which the veteran would start a game. They decided on Saturday night in Glendale, Ariz., against Phoenix.
The gamble paid off. Regardless of having not started in six weeks, Roloson stopped 38 of 40 shots for a 5-2 victory, a fourth win in five games for the desperate Oilers. Then came the decision to start Roloson again Sunday in San Jose where the rested and confident Sharks – winners of a franchise-record 11 straight – were waiting for their next victim.
Roloson was unreal, stopping 48 shots during regulation and in overtime before denying three of four San Jose skaters in the shootout that went to sudden death, too. When Fernando Pisani slipped a backhand through Evgeni Nabokov's five-hole, Edmonton had its league-record 15th win in a shootout, and to Roloson went the spoils.
"I've seen him at that level before, but I don't think I've ever seen him better than he was tonight," MacTavish said. "That's two straight games he's come in and won us hockey games during a critical stretch."
Roloson was uncanny Sunday. The only dent in his armor was a deflection during a late first-period 5-on-3. Otherwise, he was flashing his leather, closing his five-hole, using the top of his goal stick, anything it took to thwart the Sharks at every turn.
So frustrated that yet another golden scoring opportunity went awry late in overtime, Sharks defenseman Brian Campbell flipped his stick behind Roloson during a stoppage.
"We had more chances than I can remember," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "Roloson made a ton of saves. He had glove saves, stretch saves, split saves, it was one of those nights for him.
"We can't ask for more. We had scoring chances, and we moved the puck on the power play, but Roloson robbed us."
Whether the site of teal had anything to do with it is unknown, but Roloson revertd to his nemesis self toward San Jose Sunday similar as to backstopping Edmonton's rally from an 0-2 deficit during a second-round playoff series two years ago. Roloson survived triple-overtime of Game 3 and spearheaded Edmonton's streak of four straight wins to close out the Sharks en route to reaching the seventh game of the 2006 Stanley Cup finals won by Carolina.
"He's the reason we won," Oilers rookie Sam Gagne said of Sunday's result.
Roloson was tight-lipped afterward, deflecting any leading questions as to gleam his disappointment on how the season has gone for him personally. It was an easy opportunity for him to pop off, throw it back in the coaches' lap, but he played it straight.
"I can't control what the coaching staff decides," Roloson said. "I can only focus on what I need to do."
Roloson had to focus, especially late when Edmonton's tired legs started to show as a result of playing the night before and traveling late from Arizona to Northern California to face off within 24 hours of playing Saturday. The Oilers took minor penalties at 13:00, 15:17 and a real doozy by Roloson himself at 18:31. He played the puck in the no-touch zone and faced a third straight San Jose power play in the final seven minutes of regulation.
"He was doing all the things he's done before in terms of controlling the rebounds and handling the puck," MacTavish said. "He was doing all the things he does when he's on top of his game."
Then, in a cruel twist of fate, a turnover at the Edmonton blue line just as the last Oilers defenseman was trying to change enabled the Sharks to break in 3-on-0 with Sharks scoring leader Joe Thornton leading the charge. Roloson held his ground and got a piece of Thornton's shot with his stick, deflecting the puck out of harm's way.
"I think that might have been the best save of them all," MacTavish said.
"I just tried to stay with him," Roloson said. "Obviously he's a great player with good vision. I just tried to stay with it, get a read and sort of take advantage of where I thought he might shoot it.
"He would have had to go across his body to make the pass so that gives me a little more time to get across. I figured I'd just stay with the shot."
Edmonton looked dead and buried in the playoff race since Christmas, especially with the rash of injuries that have claimed Shawn Horcoff, Ethan Moreau, Sheldon Souray, Raffi Torres and Joni Pitkanen. But the Oilers now stand five points out of eighth place with nine games remaining.
"We need him," MacTavish said. "I really felt we needed him to come in and win us a bunch of games in a row. And he's well on his way."