Tue May 24 12:07am EDT
That Tampa Bay Lightning Coach Guy Boucher evoked the Vancouver Canucks sitting a struggling Roberto Luongo(notes) in Game 6 on the road, only to bring him back for a strong effort against Chicago in Game 7 of the Western Conference quarterfinal, would seem to indicate Dwayne Roloson(notes) will be starting in Game 6 against the Boston Bruins.
Yet after Tampa Bay's 3-1 Game 5 loss on Monday night, that left the Boston Bruins one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals, Boucher also spoke about rewarding outstanding play.
Here's Boucher after Game 5 in Boston on starting Smith over the Bolts' 41-year-old playoff hero:
"I think it paid off. He played really well. And the other thing too is that, all year, we've used everybody. We prided ourselves on giving everybody a good chance. When people deserve things … I'm one of those guys that will give people a chance. I felt Smitty had been terrific for us for a long, long time. He deserved to get a game.
"At the same time, I felt giving a little breather to Rollie, like Vancouver did with Luongo. Luongo came back, they've been winning since. It's a decision I don't regret at all. I've done it in the past and it worked. I've had it done against me and it worked. It was the same for Vancouver and it worked. It wasn't something emotional at all. It was done methodically. It was unanimous as a staff that we wanted to give a breather to Rollie and give Smitty a chance to participate in something he's been a part of."
Smith handled the puck well. He gave his team confidence for the third time in this series. It took two outstanding passing plays to beat him.
But he's also not the reason the Tampa Bay Lightning have a sniff of the Stanley Cup. The shaggy-haired 41-year-old that sat on the bench in Game 5 is.
With this journey one defeat away from its end in the conference finals, did Boucher make the right call in Game 5? And which goalie should play in Game 6?
In the 3-1 loss, Smith went from being untested in a lazy first period by the Bruins (4 shots); to giving up two second-period goals, the first to Nathan Horton(notes) where Smith was too deep in his own net and the second to Brad Marchand(notes) that wasn't on Smith; to making some outstanding saves down the stretch that kept it 2-1 until Rich Peverley's(notes) empty-netter.
With just under 12 minutes left in the third, Smith made a save with his mask on Tomas Kaberle(notes). Just over a minute later, he made a great glove save on a Zdeno Chara(notes) backhander; the kind of robbery that left Doc Emrick bellowing his name for what seemed like the next 10 minutes on VERSUS.
So Smith did his part. But looking back at Boucher's statements on the Bolts' goaltending throughout the series, a switch back to Roloson in Game 6 seems to fit the theme.
What Tampa Bay Lightning Coach Guy Boucher said after Game 2 in Boston, after that 6-5 pond hockey game that saw Roloson give up six goals on 27 shots:
"He's resilient. He's somebody that's got tremendous concentration. And you know he always bounces back. So we're not expecting anything less than what he's given us throughout the year. So I'm not worried. I'm not looking for new ways to give some tools for our goaltender to rebound. He's got the tools. He knows how to do it. He's done it. We're not going to mess with it."
Here's Boucher after Game 4:
"We have our No. 1 goaltender. He's taken us to this place right now. And that's the reason why we're here. And we have our -- Smitty has been terrific. He's had an average of over .940 since December 15th. And the fact that Roli came in certainly helped him with pressure and poise and all that. And whenever he was asked to play since Roloson has been there, he's been terrific. I mean, he's just been terrific. So whenever it's time for him to help the team and try to change the momentum around, I don't hesitate. It was the same in Boston. We put him in. He didn't get scored against in the third period. We were trying to come back. He played well again. So I don't remember the last bad game he's played. So obviously, when there's an opportunity to help the team and try and turn things around, we're not afraid to use him. He did a good job today.
What Boucher said before Game 5, regarding Smith and Roloson:
"I don't feel like we've got a situation. We've got a goaltender that has taken us here. He's played really well, and he's getting prepared for tomorrow. We've got a goaltender that came in relief and he's done really well. So every time we ask him to come in, he's played well, and we've got a goaltender that has taken us here that knows how to win and knows how to bounce back. So don't feel there's a situation there."
And yet there is.
Because as much as the coaches wanted to divorce emotion from their Game 5 call between the pipes, it's inevitability there for Game 6. Roloson is arguably the reason this team is two wins away from the Stanley Cup Finals. To say he's owed the chance to keep the season alive — especially having gone 6-0 in elimination games in his career — is an understatement.
But what is Smith owed for his play in the Game 5 loss?
Another shot in Game 6.
The Bruins needed two outstanding passing plays to beat him in Game 5, the first two goals he's yielded in 61 minutes of postseason play. He handles the puck better than Roloson. He's given this team a chance to win in his last four periods.
Maybe a rest gives Roloson a chance to regain his form; or maybe he gets pulled for a third time in four games. Smith is, at this point, the safer play, with Roloson coming off the pine if things go awry, providing an emotional jolt if he does.
But expect Boucher to opt for Roloson, following the Luongo model from Round 1.
But remember: Lou didn't steal Game 7; Alex Burrows did. So when Tampa's power play has gone ice cold and its offense is making Tim Thomas(notes) look every bit the Vezina winner, there are greater issues than the Smith/Roloson debate -- issues that will determine if the Bruins are playing for the Stanley Cup after Game 6.