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Smith gets surprising start for Lightning

by Corey Masisak /
BOSTON -- Members of the Smith family settled in to watch Game 5 and were welcomed with quite a surprise -- their favorite member of the Tampa Bay Lightning was starting in goal.

Coach Guy Boucher didn't tell Mike Smith he was replacing Dwayne Roloson as the starter for the Lightning until just before he left TD Garden to return to the team hotel and grab some lunch.

"No, I didn't want to tell [my family] or my wife," Smith said. "I kept it to myself and I think a lot of the guys didn't know until I got here this evening for the game either. It was just one of those things, I guess."

Smith stopped 17 of the 19 shots he faced in his first career start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but his Lightning were defeated Monday night by the Boston Bruins 3-1. The Bruins now possess a 3-2 lead in the series with a chance to eliminate the Lightning in Game 6 Wednesday night at St. Pete Times Forum.

Both of Boston's goals came in a 12-minute span in the second period. Both were one-timers from the left side of the ice after passes from along the right wall. Both were goals that would be tough to pin on the goaltender.

"I thought I did pretty well," Smith said. "Two goals, but they were tough plays. I'm never satisfied with letting in goals, so I'm going to take a look at them and see what I could have done better."

Added Steven Stamkos: "We have confidence in both of our goaltenders and it definitely wasn't anything that [Smith] could have done to win. It falls on us. We had some defensive breakdowns. [Smith] made some big saves to keep us in it when he had to. That's a coach's decision and we're really confident in both. It was a low-scoring game and we had a lot of shots to the net. Thomas made some nice saves at the end."

Boucher was coy about who his starting goaltender with the media after Smith made 21 saves to help rally the Lightning from a 3-0 deficit when Roloson was pulled in Game 4. It was the second time this series Smith was perfect in relief of Roloson.

Not telling Smith -- or anyone -- until as late as possible was Boucher's plan all along.

"We did that this year. We had [Cedrick] Desjardins come in who was coming from the American [Hockey] League, and he's playing -- we're playing the Canadiens, and that's the team he got traded from, his team of his youth," Boucher said. "Sometimes to avoid some pressure and making sure the guys sleep well at night, [I'd] rather tell them after, at lunchtime. We did that and I think it paid off. He played really well. I think the other thing, too, is that all year we've used everybody and we prided ourselves on giving everybody a good chance. When people deserve things, whether they're a fourth line or a third line or seventh or eighth D, when they deserve it -- I'm one of those guys that I'll give people a chance.

"I felt that [Smith] had been terrific for us for a long, long time, and he deserved to get a game. At the same time, I felt that giving a little breather to [Roloson], a bit like Vancouver did with [Roberto] Luongo, and Luongo came back and they have been winning since. It's a decision I don't regret at all. I've done it in the past and it worked.  I've had it done against me and it worked. I think it's the same for Vancouver and it worked. So it wasn't something emotional at all. It was something thought of methodically and it was unanimous as a staff."

Added Smith: "I think he did it on purpose so I wouldn't think about it the whole night before, and kudos to him because it was a lot of thoughts that go through your mind before the game. I was just trying to not think about it and go out there and play."

Smith didn't have a lot of work early on -- the Bruins were credited with only four shots on net in the first 20 minutes and one of them was from inside the Boston blue line at the end of the period. It didn't give Smith much of a chance to work out his nerves, but that's something he's had to get used to since Boucher took over as coach and the Lightning have improved at keeping shots against totals down.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous," Smith said. "Obviously it was my first start and I was a little bit nervous. It is the build up more than anything. Once I got out there and you start playing I seemed to settle down and get in the rhythm of the game."

Now Boucher will have another decision to make. Smith said he went to bed Sunday night and didn't expect to be making his first NHL postseason start the next day.

He became the first player at his age (29 years old) or older to make his first start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since Roloson did so on the same date 12 years prior (May 23, 1999). The question now is whether or not Smith will make his second career postseason start Wednesday night, or if this was just a one-game breather for Roloson.

"I have no expectations," Smith said. "The game just ended and I'm kind of taking a deep breath here. It is up to the coach right now. I'll be ready to go."

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