Roloson/By S. Bradley

Throughout the Bruins-Lightning Eastern Conference Final, will collaborate on Q&A features before every game with Jon Jordan 0f Beasts of the Southeast at Kukla’s Korner.

Here are Jon’s answers to my most-recent set of questions heading into tonight’s Game 5.

MK: Well, you put me on the spot about making a prediction. Can you get a handle on what’s going to happen in this series?

As you saw in my answer, all I can guarantee is that if the Bruins’ No. 1 line of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic doesn’t produce, the Lightning will go to the final. But what’s your take after seeing the Lightning all year? Do they have what it takes to replicate the last two periods of Game 4 and win two more games, or will they revert to Game 3 form?

JJ: The Lightning definitely have what it takes to win this series – somewhere in there.

Having won Game 1 and 4 in strikingly different fashion – 1 in a near-dominant performance throughout, and 4 in stunning, comeback fashion – they’ve shown they’re more than capable. But, Tampa Bay has also dropped Game 2 and 3 in widely varying ways.

So, what they’re left with is figuring out how to stay on the successful side of what appears to be a very fine line. How do they do that? The Bolts would be wise to start with not turning pucks over as frequently as they did in the two games here in Tampa. Aside from that, it’s the same old, same old. Stick with the system and so on and so forth … You’ve heard this all before.

Yeah, they have it in them for sure. “It” has been out for half of the series to this point. But half of what’s left is only a game and a half, if my simple math is accurate.

And it’s going to take two more wins for either side to reach the Stanley Cup Final. Since a game and a half won’t do, the Lightning obviously have some fine-tuning to do to put themselves in position to win this thing.

MK: Along those lines, do you think the Lightning will maintain a more aggressive forecheck? I just don’t get these teams like Montreal and the Lightning who get a lead and sit back and give the Bruins a chance to come back. Yet, when they were behind, they got at the Bruins and create giveaway after giveaway. Philadelphia didn’t have enough healthy bodies to get the job done. But when the Canadiens, and now the Lightning, tried, they were able to exploit Tomas Kaberle and Johnny Boychuk regularly, and the other D occasionally as well.

Will Tampa Bay just keep its foot on the pedal at some point?

JJ: I think there may be something to that, Matt, though I’m not sure you’re going to see the Lightning running and gunning again – not if head coach Guy Boucher gets his way.

Ideally, the Bolts would like to get the lead in any given game and clamp things down defensively, still looking to pounce on offensive opportunities (and often doing so this year in explosive fashion) but relying primarily on negating opposition scoring chances. Boston did a great job of just that in Game 3, come to think of it.

Somehow, though, maybe the Lightning need to trick themselves into thinking they’re down two or three goals to avoid the pitfalls of Game 3, in particular, where they were just dead in the water offensively.

Can you tell I don’t have much of an answer here? I’m not sure anyone does. (For Tampa’s sake, let’s hope Boucher nails something down.)

Ultimately, what I’m thinking is this: We’ve seen the Lightning on top of their game at times in this series, just as we have for the Bruins. I still don’t think, so far, that we’ve seen both teams firing on all cylinders at the same time. As a hockey fan, I don’t think anyone would stand in the way of seeing that eventually.

And I’m not sure I know how it would pan out either…

MK: Here’s the “million dollar question”: You had to like what Mike Smith gave you in Game 2 and 4. So how do you not go back to him? Wouldn’t the team rally around him after he paid his dues all year? To me he should at least get to play until he gives up a goal. It’s not like Dwayne Roloson is some young goalie who you have to protect. I say: play Mike Smith!

JJ: Well, as good as Roloson has been in these playoffs, I’m nothing if I’m not honest and Smith’s performance had me jacked up on Saturday. That might be because of a lengthy chat I had with him in late February, a day before Smith was put on re-entry waivers, in an effort to get him back up to Tampa – something Smith had no problem admitting at the time that he didn’t at all expect to ever happen. I referenced the original piece Saturday night, after talking with Smith after Game 4 about just how much things have changed since then.

It may sound lame but it’s one of the only times I can recall in four years of covering this team where I had any sort of emotional buy-in to a story. Just that one win alone makes Smith’s a great story and you can’t help but feel happy for him.

Still, to me, the choice of Roloson or Smith for the upcoming Game 5 is anything but an easy one. Aren’t the playoffs all about the hot goaltender? But maybe that’s just it. See, Roloson was that hot goaltender through even the first game of this series. Now, with Smith having performed admirably in relief appearances in Game 2 and 4, is that enough for him to overtake Roloson on a more permanent basis in the Lightning crease?

Probably not. With a little extended thought, it’s probably still Roloson who will get the call. Boucher has been careful not to say exactly that since Game 4but, more than anything else, that’s probably just a smart hockey mind taking advantage of an opportunity to employ a little more gamesmanship, now that the Eastern Conference Final is down to a best-of-three.

If Boucher does decide to go with Smith, I wouldn’t be completely surprised, as that argument does have some merit, but the Bolts’ bench boss is a meticulous thinker and my guess is that thought process will eventually lead him to back to Roloson.

Then again, at this point in what has been a crazy series, who the hell knows?