Thanks in large part to a performance in which Roloson, 41, stopped 35 shots, including five in overtime, the Lightning toppled Washington, 3-2, on Sunday night to take a stunning 2-0 series lead heading back to Tampa. Roloson’s work came two days after he stopped 26 shots in Friday’s 4-2 victory, also at Verizon Center, and his save percentage during this round is a robust .937.
“He’s been making a lot of big saves in these playoffs,” Lightning Coach Guy Boucher said. “Obviously to win against a team like that, you’re going to need that every game because they’ve got so much firepower that any of their shots can go in. You certainly need to rely on the goaltender that’s doing that well.”
It’s exactly the impact General Manager Steve Yzerman envisioned when he aggressively engineered a New Year’s Day trade for Roloson from the New York Islanders in exchange for defenseman Ty Wishart, who might well be an answer to a trivia question if Tampa Bay continues on this pace.
At the time of the deal, the Lightning had little stability in goal, with a carousel that included Dan Ellis and Mike Smith, who then was recovering from a left-knee injury. The Lightning certainly wasn’t ready to hand the job to Cedrick Desjardins despite a couple of promising starts from the rookie.
Roloson made an impact right away, stopping all 34 shots in a 1-0 overtime victory against Washington on Jan. 4. Three games later, the veteran was a perfect again against the Lightning’s Southeast Division rival, turning away 23 shots in a 3-0 victory that would make him one of four goalies to shut out the Capitals twice this season.
“Rollie’s been unbelievable since day one that he’s been here,” said Lightning defenseman Randy Jones. “He’s a warrior back there. He’s always the backbone that we count on, and when there’s a letdown, we know he’s got our back.”
In that period, Roloson held firm when the Lightning took three consecutive penalties. During the Capitals’ third power play, Roloson stopped Alex Ovechkin, kept his focus with center Jason Arnott bearing down and then denied defenseman Mike Green from the right slot.
Roloson’s most emphatic save of the period came with 2:34 to play and winger Marco Sturm breaking away down the right side.
After Roloson made the stop and the action was well in the other direction, he tapped his stick on the ice three times, as if defiantly notifying the Capitals it would take more than that to outdo him.
“It’s a great feeling, but at the same time, it’s over with now,” Roloson said of the Lightning’s fifth straight road win this postseason. “We got to refocus, get home and rest. We’ve got back-to-back games coming up. Like I said, they’re a strong hockey club, so we’ve got to make sure we can get back and get rested and be ready to try to play a good game on Tuesday.”