Every goaltender is pulled once in a while. Even the greats have been yanked from the net and made to sit on the sidelines while the back-up tries to pick up the pieces. However, when the back-up goaltender ends up starting a playoff game in place of a perfectly healthy starter, that’s certainly a topic for conversation.
It’s happened a couple of times during this postseason, mostly recently with Dwayne Roloson yesterday.
Dwayne Roloson is one of the main reasons for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s run to the Eastern Conference Final. He’s been a favourite in our ongoing Conn Smythe Trophy Tracker in both round one and round two. Yes, he isn’t having his best series against the Boston Bruins, but it was still strange to see Mike Smith start in net last night.
Mike Smith has played well in the action he’s seen in these playoffs and he was once again steady yesterday. However, it wasn’t enough as the Bruins defeated the Lighting 3-1.
Many times a coach will pull a goaltender in order to get a game under control or to send his team a message. That’s what happened in game two and game four. Smith didn’t allow a goal in either of those games after coming in to relieve Dwayne Roloson.
However, it seems that the Lightning’s biggest goaltending issue isn’t taking place in their net. Tampa Bay’s inability to beat Tim Thomas at the other end is a major reason that this series is one Bruins win away from being over.
Another surprising starter was Cory Schneider in game six of the Vancouver Canucks first round series with the Chicago Blackhawks. That goalie swap made some sense as Vancouver lost game four 7-2 and game five 5-0. Roberto Luongo had allowed 10 goals in two games when Alain Vigneault decided to give Cory Schneider the start.
His run in the Canucks net didn’t last long, however. Schneider was injured on a third period penalty shot and had to leave the game. Luongo returned to the net with the game tied and ended up losing in overtime.
Philadelphia started three different goaltenders in these playoffs. Brian Boucher started seven games, Sergei Bobrovsky started three and Michael Leighton started one. However, each of those goaltenders also took part in several mid-game goaltending changes that made the Flyers’ net look like a game of musical chairs.
As our own Kent Wilson put it: “Their collection of kids and backups was okay in the first round of the post-season, but collapsed in a heap against the Bruins, solidifying in everyone’s minds the obvious truth: the Flyers goaltending sucks!”
There’s an inherent problem with starting a back-up over a starting goaltender and that’s the question of where you go next. There’s really no good answer to that question. If the back-up comes in and plays an outstanding game, there’s no way you can leave him on the bench for the next game is there? But can you honestly count on him as a starter? There’s a reason he’s a back-up.
For example, what if Cory Schneider had won game six against Chicago? Would he have started in round two? Would Luongo remain on the bench? That doesn’t make sense, but neither does sitting a goaltender who is playing well. So what do you do?
You end up in a similar problem if the back-up goaltender loses the game. Then what choices are you left with? Go back to the starting goaltender who clearly wasn’t playing well enough to start a game? Stick with a losing back-up? Vancouver didn’t have to deal with this situation due to Schneider’s injury, but Tampa Bay will.
Does Roloson get the start in game six? He’s undefeated when facing elimination, which is what the Lightning now face. But would it make sense to start Roloson in a crucial game six when he apparently wasn’t good enough to start game five?
Then again, you can’t really put Mike Smith in with the season on the line, can you?
And that’s the problem with starting a back-up in the playoffs.