It could be argued that the goalie with the gray playoff beard was the MVP of the first round, yielding only four goals over the final three games as the Lightning rallied from a three-games-to-one deficit against the Penguins. Roloson punctuated his quarterfinal heroics Wednesday in Pittsburgh, turning aside all 36 shots for a series-clinching, 1-0 victory to show that, even at 41 years old, he has a penchant for coming up huge under the most intense pressure.
With the win, Roloson became the oldest NHL goalie to earn a shutout in a Game 7. It also solidified his status as a “hot goalie” — the two scariest words this time of year.
When reminded on Thursday morning that Roloson had improved to 6-0 in his career when facing elimination, Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau rolled his eyes before firing back, “I know exactly what he is.”
“One of the things about him — not to pump up his tires — is he’s really good under pressure,” added Boudreau, who recalled getting swept by Roloson in a minor league playoff series in 1999. “Very much like [Boston’s] Tim Thomas, he’s a competitive, competitive guy. He stops the puck when he has to.”
Before beating the Penguins, the highlight of Roloson’s career had come in spring 2006, when, after being acquired by Edmonton at the trade deadline, he carried the eighth-seeded Oilers to the Stanley Cup finals. At one point, Roloson won seven consecutive contests and was an early front-runner for the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. But a sprained knee suffered in Game 1 sidelined him for the rest of the finals, and the Oilers eventually succumbed to the Carolina Hurricanes six games later.
This postseason, Tampa Bay General Manager Steve Yzerman is asking Roloson to do it one more time. Yzerman dealt a prospect to the New York Islanders on Jan. 1 for Roloson in an attempt to shore up the Lightning’s shaky goalie situation.
Washington had thumped Tampa Bay, 6-3 and 6-0, in the teams’ first two meetings of the season. Goals, however, became much more scarce after Roloson’s arrival. He shut out the Capitals, 1-0, in his first game with the Lightning, then a week later beat them again, 3-0. In all, Roloson posted a record of 2-2-1, a minuscule 1.38 goals against average, a scintillating .953 save percentage and two shutouts against the Capitals (including one start as an Islander) this season. Among the teams he faced at least four times, those were his best numbers.
On the eve of Game 1, the Capitals did their best to sound unconcerned.
“He’s a good goalie,” Brooks Laich said. “But everything in the regular season, you throw that out the window. Regular season is gone.