TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning are once again hitching their hopes of blocking Boston’s path to the Stanley Cup finals on goaltender Dwayne Roloson.
Down 3-2 to the Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals, coach Guy Boucher said the 41-year-old Roloson is “the guy that took us here,” so he’ll be in net for Game 6 when the Lightning try to even the best-of-seven series on Wednesday night.
The Bruins are one victory away from their first Stanley Cup appearance in 21 years after beating Roloson’s backup, Mike Smith, in Game 5.
Boucher opted to give Smith his first career playoff start after pulling Roloson from two of the previous three games against the Bruins, saying he felt the veteran whose acquisition in January was critical to Tampa Bay’s turnaround season needed a “breather.”
Although Smith was solid during Monday’s night’s 3-1 loss that left the Lightning on the brink of elimination, Boucher sounded as though it was an easy decision to go back to Roloson.
“This is a perfect situation. He’s going to be the only rested guy in the two teams,” Boucher said Tuesday, noting Roloson has responded well to breaks this season.
“He’s like everybody else. He’s one of the hardest working guys on our team. He puts in a lot of hours and a lot of time,” the Lightning coach added. “And he’s like everybody else, at some point or another just needs to breathe a little bit.”
Smith shut down Boston after Roloson fell behind 3-0 in the opening period of Game 4, giving Tampa Bay a chance to rally for a 5-3 victory. He stopped 17 of 19 shots Monday night, with the Bruins’ adding an empty net goal in the closing seconds of a win that that has Boston on the brink of reaching the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990.
The Bruins said regardless of who’s in goal for the Lightning, they must remain focused on how they must play to finish the task.
“We know and we can play better than we did (in Game 5) and that’s the positive you can take out of a win. Knowing that we’re a team that plays better than we showed,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “We’re going to need that kind of effort if we plan on winning … because (Tampa Bay) going to play with desperation. They’re a good team. They’re a dangerous team.”
A Lightning victory would send it back to Boston for Game 7 on Friday night.
Tampa Bay is confident that could happen.
After all, the Lightning trailed Pittsburgh 3-1 in the opening round before winning three straight to avoid elimination.
“We’ve been down 3-1. So 3-2, we’re behind but it doesn’t scare us. We’re going to come out and play,” Tampa Bay forward Martin St. Louis said.
“Our backs are against the wall, we have to respond,” the six-time All-Star added. “I know we will.”
Boston goalie Tim Thomas stopped 33 shots after falling behind just over a minute into Game 5, and Tampa Bay went 0-for 4 on power-play opportunities to droop to 2-for-18 in the series.
Boucher shrugged off a suggestion that the Lightning’s frustration could carry over into Game 6, using Boston’s ability to rebound after squandering a three-goal lead in Game 5 as an example of why teams can’t dwell on what happened the previous game.
“They were leading by three. Everybody was telling them that they were feeling bad after the game and it would maybe carry on the next game and they won the next game. That’s why I say, people like to hear that things carry on to the next game. But they don’t,” Boucher said.
“It’s a new story tomorrow,” the Lightning coach added. “So we feel that we lost the game and played well, and we can play even better. And whether it’s just or unjust, the reality is it starts at zero tomorrow, and we have an opportunity and that’s great.”
The Bruins are excited about the opportunity they have, too.
“I don’t think anyone is blocking it out. We’re all very excited, one win away,” Boston’s Tyler Seguin said. “I think we want to play like it’s Game 7. They’re going to, so we want to do the same.”
Teammate Gregory Campbell agreed.
“Obviously, it’s only natural to look ahead. (But) If you look (too far) ahead, bad things seem to happen. This is going to be the hardest game.”
While Roloson will start the Lightning, there was no definitive word from Boucher on the status of forward Sean Bergenheim, who’s scored a NHL-leading nine goals in the playoffs. Bergenheim sat out the last two periods of Game 5 with an undisclosed injury that the coach said would have kept Bergenheim from playing if Game 6 had been Tuesday.
“We’ll see,” Boucher said, adding that it won’t necessarily put more pressure on others such as St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier if Bergenheim can’t go.
“You know what, it falls on everybody. I hate to point guys out and say it’s you’ve got to be the guy and you’ve got to be the guy,” Boucher said. “Everybody’s been the guy with us at one moment or another. So tomorrow, it’s a team thing. It can’t be one guy taking all this pressure on his shoulders. It’s everybody has got to lift a load together.”