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Martin Fennelly Columns

Bolts' Boucher lays it on line by tapping Roloson

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 02:01 PM
TAMPA -

The Lightning plane from Boston landed Tuesday afternoon bearing news, if not victory. No state secrets this time:

Back in goal goes Dwayne Roloson.

It's the call I would make.

Then I would run and hide.

By the way, the Boston Bruins charter landed a few minutes before the Lightning's. Word is Tim Thomas steered the whole way down, using only his goalie stick. He really is feeling it.

It's another must-win moment for the Lightning, Game 6 of the conference finals. Guy Boucher, Coach Coy before Game 5, said Roli, Roli, Roli, to anyone he met Tuesday. Boucher has pushed all the right buttons as an NHL rookie. And now he has pushed another one, a big one, and he'd better be right.

Mike Smith returns to the bullpen, despite a .951 save percentage and a solid Game 5. Boucher reaches for the recently shaky Roloson, a move in some ways as bold as starting Smith in Game 5. The perfectly reasonable play might be Smith to start, Roloson ready in reserve.

Me? I want Roloson in goal tonight. Then again, I wanted him in net for Game 5, even after his slipping and sliding. Smith went in and held up his end. I guess that's why I'm not a finalist for Coach of the Year and Boucher is. Wait, Boucher isn't one of the finalists, either, which will remain, even after this season ends, however it ends, one of life's great mysteries.

Anyway, there's no mystery to Game 6 for Boucher.

"At some moment it has to be about how you feel, the information you've got, and then you make a decision," he said. "The one thing I'm never going to be is a guy who waits for things to change. I dare. Period. About everything.

"And if I feel that's what needs to be done, and it's going to give us an edge, a chance, or give somebody a break, I don't wait because I wonder what it looks like. I'm the last guy to do that."

Here's how it played out in his mind: Roloson was dragging a bit and Smith had earned a Game 5 start after stellar relief work. Most important, the series — and season — wasn't on the line.

"To me, it was the perfect moment to give Roli a break," Boucher said.

What was there to lose?

Um, Game 5?

True, Smith didn't lose it, and if he'd won Game 5 by 2-1 or 3-2 or something, he'd be in goal tonight. But now the Lightning can lose it all, and that means Roloson, and it should, even with a 4.43 goals-against and .854 save percentage this series. Boucher insists that a few days off will do wonders for his 41-year-old goalie.

The most pertinent numbers are these: 6-0.

That is Dwayne Roloson's record in Stanley Cup playoff elimination games.

"If it was a do-or-die game (Monday), Roloson would have been in net," Boucher said.

Just a month ago, he beat the Penguins three straight, including a Game 7 shutout. Roloson has a 1.50 goals-against in six elimination games with a .951 save percentage. He really, really doesn't like being eliminated.

Tonight can't be about Roloson and/or Smith's Lightning future. It's about here and now. When it's all on the line, against the wall, break in case of fire, you go with your best, or back to your best, and you don't look back. You go with Roli.

The Vancouver Canucks went back to the talented, but sometimes maddening, Roberto Luongo in Game 7 against Chicago in the first round after he sat out Game 6 against Chicago, a move Boucher has referenced. But Mike Smith is feeling fine and had no glaring boo-boos in Game 5. It opens up Boucher to critics if Roloson takes another fall.

Boucher isn't blinking.

"He'll be fine," he said of Roloson. "He's a warrior."

Wonder how quick a hook he will wield.

"We won't need it," Guy Boucher said.

He dares. Period.

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