Heading into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher had a big decision to make. Should he give Dwayne Roloson, the Lightning’s starting goaltender, the start in net or should he give backup goaltender Mike Smith the start?
Heading into Game 5, Tampa Bay’s goaltending stats were:
- Roloson: 9-5 record with a 2.51 GAA and a .925 save percentage
- Smith: 1-0 record a 0.00 GAA and a 1.000 save percentage in 61 minutes of play
Keep in mind that Dwayne Roloson was pulled in his last two starts.
Between Games 4 and 5, Boucher kept his proverbial cards close to his chest when the media asked who was going to start in net for the Lightning in Game 5. Reports came out on game day that Roloson was the first goaltender off the ice following the morning skate which is the universal sign for the media of who is going to start in net that evening.
During his press conference following the morning skate, Boucher still would not announce to the media who his starting goaltender would be for Game 5.
“We’re preparing like usual,” said Boucher when asked if Roloson would start in Game 5. “He’s (Roloson) preparing like he prepared for all the other games. So we’re prepared.”
It was not until game time when everyone got the surprise news that Smith would start in net for Tampa Bay in Game 5. It was a last minute decision that caught even Smith off guard.
“I found probably out near the same time you guys did,” said Smith to reporters following game five. “It surprised me, too.”
Even though Smith got the loss, he allowed two goals on 19 shots (a 2.02 GAA and .895 save percentage for the game) and gave the Lightning a great chance to win the game.
Following the Bolts loss, the media wanted to know exactly what the method behind Boucher’s goaltending selection “madness” was? Boucher was asked if keeping the decision to give Roloson the night off a secret and to inform Smith that he was starting at the last possible moment, was designed to take pressure off of the Game 5 starter.
“Yes, that’s exactly the reason why,” said Boucher. “And we did that this year. We had (Lightning prospect Cedrick) Desjardins come in who was coming from (Norfolk of) the American League, and he’s playing — we’re playing the Canadiens, and that’s the team he got traded from, his team of his youth. And sometimes to avoid some pressure and making sure the guys sleep well at night, rather tell them after, at lunchtime. And we did that. And I think it paid off. He played really well.”
Then during the same line of questioning, Boucher got to one of the main reasons why he chose to keep the starting goaltending a secret.
“I think the other thing, too, is that all year we’ve used everybody,” said Boucher. “When people deserve things, whether they’re a fourth line or a third line or seventh or eighth D, when they deserve — I’m one of those guys that I’ll give people a chance.”
Part of being a coach is not only knowing when to give a player a chance to shine but its also knowing when to give a player a break when he needs it. In the playoffs, a decision like who is going to start in a pivotal playoff game cannot be made on a whim.
“It (the decision to start Mike Smith in goal for Game 5) was something thought of methodically and it was unanimous as a staff, that we wanted to give a breather to Roli and give a chance to Smitty to participate in something he’s been a part of,” said Boucher.
Once the discussions are over, the proverbial trigger has to be pulled without remorse or second-guessing.
“It’s a decision I don’t regret at all,” said Boucher. “I’ve done it in the past and it worked. I’ve had it done against me and it worked. And I think it’s the same for Vancouver and it worked.”
With Game 5 now in the books and Game 6 drawing near, who is starting in net for the Lightning?
“Roloson,” said Boucher yesterday to reporters.
So why is Boucher going back to Roloson in Game 6 after starting Smith in Game 5?
“He’s going to be the only rested guy in the two teams.”
Is Boucher’s goaltending decision making madness? We will know after Game 6.