BOSTON – Bruins forward Mark Recchi has a second Stanley Cup championship ring because his Carolina Hurricanes outlasted the Edmonton Oilers through seven games of the Cup final in 2006.
Would history have been different had Edmonton goaltender Dwayne Roloson not suffered a season-ending knee injury late in the third period of Game 1? For the entirety of Edmonton’s postseason run, Roloson finished with a .927 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average.
The Oilers were forced to go with Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen, who both posted regular season save percentages of less than .890 and GAAs near or more than 3.00.
While we’ll never know how a healthy Roloson would’ve changed the outcome of that series, ti’s a safe bet that Edmonton’s odds would’ve been better with him between the pipes. Barring an unforeseen occurrence, the Bruins aren’t going to be as fortunate as those ’06 Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final series that starts with Tampa Bay Saturday night at the TD Garden. Roloson should be defending the Lightning’s crease throughout.
Recchi knows that and knows his team has a tall task on its hands.
“He’s a competitive guy. He’s a lot like Timmy [Thomas],” said Recchi this week. “He’s very competitive, never quits. They’re very smart at playing their position. We’re just going to have to out-battle him. He’s a battler and it’s going to be good, so …”
Out-battling a veteran netminder that logged 179 AHL regular-season games and didn’t become an NHL regular until 32 years of age or a No. 1 until he was 36 could be the most difficult thing the Bruins have faced all season long. The Bruins’ shooters certainly weren’t challenged by the sieve duo of Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky last round. Now they have to polish off their best wristers and slappers, the ones they used against Carey Price in round one, and make even a more concerted effort to create traffic and maybe even get in Roloson’s face now and then.
Roloson is now 41 and there’s no telling when or if he’ll have another chance to be this close to the Cup. So he’s not taking anything for granted.
“You never know. You got to cherish and relish every moment of every situation,” Roloson, who noted that he felt the same way in ’06, said after the Lightning practiced at the TD Garden. “So for me, nothing’s changed. You have to enjoy it, have fun with it, do whatever you got to do to help your team win. The bottom line, if you can do that, you’re going to have success.”
In 34 games after being acquired from the New York Islanders, Roloson compiled an 18-12-4 record with a .912 save percentage and 2.56 GAA to stabilize a young Lightning team that couldn’t hold onto the division lead it grabbed for the first several weeks of the regular season. He’s been even better in the playoffs with a league-best .941 save percentage and 2.01 GAA.
“I think the thing that separates him is his leadership abilities,” said Tampa Bay sniper Steven Stamkos. “You don’t see that. We see that in the room every day before practice, he’s stepping up, always talking. He’s obviously a veteran guy in this league who has been to the finals before. He knows how to react in every single situation. We know how good he is on the ice, but it’s his leadership abilities that have helped us to get here.”
Maybe if things went differently in ’06, either with Roloson’s knee or just the Game 7 result, Roloson wouldn’t still have his competitive juices flowing as much. Maybe he wouldn’t be standing in the way of the Bruins’ quest to reach the Cup final for the first time in 20 years.
Those are the types of maybe Roloson especially doesn’t want to ponder.
“It was out of my control,” Roloson said about his ’06 injury. “Still is out of my control, how it happened, what happened. For me to dwell on it and focus on it is just wasting my energy and my focus. For me, our team didn’t win. It’s unfortunate we didn’t win. But at the same time you got to forget about it and go on.”
Roloson has moved on and he’s focusing all his energies on stopping the Bruins, just like he did Pittsburgh and Washington. While the Bruins, fans and pundits are confident their Vezina Trophy favorite in net gives them an edge in this series, Roloson cannot be taken lightly.
Experience is one thing. The experiences Roloson had to endure to make a name for himself, and his past ability to carry an eighth-seeded team within a few victories of the Cup, make him a whole other animal. The Bruins’ ability to slay the beast will determine whether they have what it takes to play for game’s ultimate prize.