2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Semifinals Preview
Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview - (5) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (1) Washington Capitals
The bad news for the Tampa Bay Lightning as they enter the second round of the NHL postseason: Goalie Dwayne Roloson is likely going to have to stand on his head if the fifth-seeded Bolts are to defeat the Washington Capitals.
The good news for the boys from the Sunshine State is this: Roloson’s entirely capable of doing the deed.
A fascinating series seems to be in store for puckheads as round two cranks up tonight at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. The Capitals, a team that’s long on ability but short on postseason results, will test itself against yet another opponent with a goaltender who can steal two games in a best-of-seven series. Washington didn’t lose in the first round the way it did last year, but the Caps will still have to show that they can display unmistakable excellence – enough, at any rate, to overwhelm a netminder with an above-average postseason reputation and a boatload of confidence.
Roloson, you might recall, was the man who took the 2006 Edmonton Oilers on his back and led the Canadian squad to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes. Roloson got injured in Game 1 and did not return for the rest of the series; his absence from hockey’s biggest event loomed large when the Oilers were still able to extend Carolina to a Game 7 despite Roloson’s absence. Hockey life became difficult for Roloson in the years following his injury. Four entirely unproductive seasons in the NHL were leading Roloson – a man still capable of brilliance on occasion – to a career dead end.
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Then came his lifeline. In January of this year, Roloson – languishing on Long Island with the New York Islanders – was traded to Tampa Bay, a playoff-bound team with a core of formidable goal scorers. The Lightning needed the right man between the pipes to make them a title contender, and Roloson showed in the first round of the playoffs that he’s capable of seeing this team through difficult days. Roloson made each and every timely save over a three-game stretch, as Tampa Bay overcame a 3-1 series deficit and took down the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games. Roloson clinched the series this past Wednesday in Pittsburgh with a dominant 1-0 shutout. Roloson rose to the moment in hostile territory, providing the maturity only a 41-year-old veteran could provide for a team that, with young stars like Steven Stamkos, is still learning how to play in the playoffs.
Here’s the central storyline of the series, then: Roloson, to put the matter plainly, is entirely capable of replicating the shutdown performances that Jaroslav Halak produced last season for Montreal against the Capitals. Halak, like Roloson in the first round, fell behind three games to one but then owned the final three contests, as the Canadiens stunned the Caps in seven games, winning the final contest on the road. Halak got into the heads of Washington’s brilliant scorers, including team leader Alex Ovechkin. Roloson will have to do the same thing in this series; it’s a burden, but in the same breath, it’s also entirely possible. Washington needed a few lucky bounces to subdue Henrik Lundqvist, the New York Rangers’ accomplished goalie, in round one. The Caps will have to be even better against Roloson, because Tampa Bay possesses more offensive firepower than the New York crew Washington just defeated.
Yes, this is a team sport, but it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that this is Dwayne Roloson against the Washington Capitals. If the best goalie left in the East playoffs can play at an elevated level, the Eastern Conference’s best team could be in for a very difficult series.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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