Smith held up well in first playoff start
Mike Smith didn’t find out he was going to make his first career postseason start until midday before the Lightning headed back to the hotel for lunch after yesterday’s morning skate.
Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher elected to keep the news to himself in order to keep the pressure off Smith, who had two relief appearances in this series on his résumé prior to last night’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Bruins. Although Smith gave up two goals on 19 shots and absorbed the 3-1 loss (the third was an empty-netter), he acquitted himself well. Boucher said it was a pattern for the coaching staff to not give players too much to think about prior to games.
“That’s exactly the reason why,’’ said Boucher, whose team trails, 3-2, heading back to Tampa. “We did that [earlier] this year. We had [Cedrick] Desjardins come in, who was coming from the American League, and we were playing the Canadiens and that was the team he was traded from and that was the team of his youth. Sometimes to avoid some pressure and making sure the guys sleep well at night, you’d rather tell them after, at lunch time. We did that and I think it paid off, [Smith] played really well.’’
Smith acknowledged it was probably best he didn’t find out the day before so he was able to get some proper rest. When he was told, he didn’t tell his family, not even his wife.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous,’’ said Smith. “It’s the build-up more than anything. Once you get playing, you seem to settle down and get in the rhythm of the game. Obviously, it’s my first start in the playoffs. I was definitely excited about it. I just wanted to go in there and give the team a chance to win. I thought I did pretty well.’’
In Games 2 and 4, Smith allowed zero goals on 33 shots. He extended the shutout streak to 85 minutes 15 seconds before Nathan Horton beat him at 4:24 of the second period, tying the game at 1-1. Brad Marchand scored the eventual winner at 15:56.
“On the two goals, they were tough plays but I’m never satisfied with letting in goals so I’m going to take a look at them and see what I could’ve done better,’’ said Smith.
Smith went into the morning skate expecting veteran Dwayne Roloson to get the start despite being pulled in two previous contests.
“I think the coach hung onto it as long as he could,’’ he said. “Obviously, I was surprised.’’
As much as the Lightning dominated the opening period, outshooting Boston, 14-4, that actually makes it tougher on the goalie who has so little work particularly because he went 14 minutes between shots at one point.
“I learned a lot about doing that, playing on this team,’’ said Smith. “We’re a team that doesn’t give up many shots through the whole regular season. I learned to play like that. It was definitely strange, especially in the playoffs, not getting shots for that long but you’ve just got to try to relax with your mind when the puck is in their end and when it comes down, just to try to stay focused.’’
Boucher said he thought Smith earned the start on merit.
“All year, we’ve used everybody,’’ said Boucher. “We’ve prided ourselves on giving everybody a good chance. Smitty had been terrific for us for a long, long time. He deserved to get a game. And at the same time, I felt that giving a little breather to Rollie, a bit like Vancouver did with [Roberto] Luongo and Luongo came back and they’ve been winning since. It’s a decision I don’t regret at all. It wasn’t something emotional at all. It was something we thought of methodically and it was unanimous as a staff that we wanted to give a breather to Rollie and give a chance to Smitty to participate in something he’s been part of.’’
For the most part, the problem for the Lightning has not been their goaltending, it’s been solving Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.
“We’re still trying to figure out the Thomas enigma,’’ said Boucher.
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.