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Tencer's Blog: Riding Roloson

by Dan Tencer / Edmonton Oilers
Dwayne Roloson makes a remarkable glove save, keeping the Oilers alive in overtime of Game 3 vs. San Jose (2006).

Flashback to Round 2 of the 2006 playoffs as the Oilers returned home from San Jose trailing the series 2-0.

Game 3 was deadlocked heading into Overtime when Jonathan Cheechoo was the recipient of a perfect pass on a two-on-one, and sent a laser to the top shelf that ended the game and gave the Sharks a 3-0 stranglehold on the series.

Oh, whoops. No he didn’t. His perfectly placed laser was snatched midstream by Dwayne Roloson and the Oilers used their new life to win that game (Shawn Horcoff) and that series. The goaltending of Roloson was a common theme throughout the Oilers playoff run that year, and nightmares still persist about what could have been if he would have avoided injury in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The acquisition of Roloson was yet another keen move made by General Manager Kevin Lowe that year, when everything he touched seemingly turned to gold…and nearly silver. A first round draft pick seemed, in hindsight, highway robbery of the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Roli the Goalie.

Think, then, how the Tampa Bay Lightning feel about giving up only a mid-range defensive prospect for the veteran netminder back in January. Having solved their off-ice issues with the installation of a new owner, goaltending seemed the only obvious obstacle holding back the 2004 Stanley Cup Champions in their quest to return to the top of the mountain. After the acquisition of Dan Ellis failed miserably, Yzerman didn’t stubbornly stick with his blunder, instead dealing for some veteran stability between the pipes.

Roloson posted an 18-12-4 record with the Lightning following his acquisition in January, with a .912 save-percentage and four shutouts. In his first playoff appearances since guiding the Oilers to the final round in 2006, Roloson is 8-3 with a staggering .941 save-percentage.

Roloson, and the Lightning, have won seven consecutive hockey games in this playoff year after rallying from a 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh in the opening round. Talking to those close to the situation in Tampa Bay, I can tell you that they’re experiencing EXACTLY the same thing that the Oilers experienced in 2006. Remember the three-headed monster in the Oilers crease before Roloson? Conklin, Markkanen and Morrison…and, with no disrespect, they almost cost the team its playoff spot.

When Roloson arrived, he brought with him a wave of calm. With a work ethic and battle level that rivaled anyone else in the dressing room, and elite puck-stopping ability, Roloson earned instant trust with his new teammates. He was the right goalie, at the right time. In Tampa Bay, the story reads the same way, with a similar group of players that needed someone between the pipes to believe in.

At 41 years of age now, Roloson still features that same battle level and tenacity and could still trend above most of his teammates in fitness evaluations. Once again, he’s the right goalie at the right time.

Starting on Saturday night, Roloson will be backstopping his team in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins, where he’ll face the only ‘tender in the playoffs this year that can rival his statistics. With an identical 8-3 record, and a .937 save-percentage, Tim Thomas’ career story reads pretty similar to Roloson’s.

While Roloson was undrafted, Tim Thomas was drafted in a round that doesn’t exist any more. While Roloson journeyed as a career backup until the 2005-06 season, Thomas struggled to find any work in the NHL until emerging as a starter in the same year. As my colleague Bob Stauffer might say, these guys are alley cats. They fight and claw and scrap for every ounce of success they’ve ever earned.

Since 2006, Thomas has both won the Vezina trophy and lost his starting job before earning it back. Since 2006, Roloson has struggled behind mediocre teams in Edmonton and New York (Islanders) before earning a promotion to a team that can uses his services later than April. He got a two-year contract in the summer of 2009 and will get another one in the summer of 2011, regardless of where things go from here for Roloson and Tampa Bay.

Dwayne Roloson and Tim Thomas are the best stories of the 2011 NHL Playoffs. They are the personification of work ethic, reminders that success can be achieved against all odds. One of these men will earn the right to battle for a Stanley Cup next month, and you won’t find me betting against him.

Author: Dan Tencer

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