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KELLEY: Roloson comes through in the clutch

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 
When was in his perennial backup role behind legendary goaltender Dominik Hasek of the Buffalo , he once got a call that changed his life. coach Lindy Ruff told him that Hasek was injured and that it would be Roloson who would start Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals in Toronto against the then-formidable . Nobody game Roloson much of a chance, but the kid didn't disappoint. He won that game going away, and though Hasek returned and carried the to a series win and an appearance in the Stanley Cup final, nobody forgot Roloson's contribution. Especially not Roloson. "It was a game and a point in my career when I had to prove myself," Roloson said at the time. "Not just to my teammates, but to myself. I had to know that I could win a game when it mattered most, when people were counting on me to do the job. That game was a statement that I could play in this league." Fast forward to Sunday night, when Roloson carried that message right to the doorstep of the Vancouver and came away with a 3-2 win that evened the National Hockey League's Western Conference semifinal series at one game apiece. Like the and their goaltender, , there were always some doubts about Roloson. He had a spectacular season and was outstanding against Colorado until he went to the sidelines with what was often reported as a groin strain. Roloson missed nearly all of the last three games of that series (won by Minnesota 4-3). He didn't get the start in Game 1 against Vancouver either, in which the erased a two-goal Minnesota lead and beat . Coach Jacques Lemaire went back to Roloson in this game -- the way he has all season -- and Roloson didn't disappoint. He stopped near everything the surging could throw at him except for a down-the-slot offering from defenseman and a sixth-attacker goal from in the closing seconds of play. It was a stellar performance, and backed by goals from , and the won their first game of the series. The teams now go to Minnesota for two games. Roloson stopped 30 of 32 shots and showed no ill effects of the injury that can be most difficult for goaltenders to recover from. He was particularly sharp in the early going when the were playing with the exuberance that comes from playing in front of a home crowd and the confidence that carries over from a come-from-behind victory. Sure he had plenty of help from his defensive minded teammates, but the count on their goaltenders to come up big when called upon, and Roloson did that. It was 3-1 until Ohlund added a six-attacker goal to make the final score close, but it was Roloson who battled right to the end to preserve the win. It's something he learned to do way back when no one knew that he could. Props to the in this one. They played a tough physical game in winning on the road for the fourth time in the playoffs. It got ugly in the end, the result of a lot of physical play throughout the game, but the more than held their own against the bigger and, some claim, tougher . Look for fines and perhaps some suspensions coming out of a minor donnybrook at the end of the game involving numerous players from both sides.

Oh yeah, well top this!

It would be nice to give the proverbial tip of the hockey hat to Philadelphia goaltender . After all, just when you might be expected to again have doubts about his abilities as a playoff performer, he comes out and blanks the Ottawa 2-0 Sunday in Ottawa. We don't have a bad thing to say about that, but the kudos, in our view at least, go to coach Ken Hitchcock, who refocused his troops on the game plan that has worked so well so often this season. Hitchcock is the master of the defensive system where players stand up their opponents at the blue line or beyond, where every skater is forced to the outside, where the forwards are told — not asked, told — to make a commitment to coming back and helping out in their own end. The system takes precedence over any kind of individual effort. Call it robotic hockey, and often did when he was in the Hitchcock system when both were at Dallas, but it works and it couldn't have worked any better against the . Coach Jacques Martin's team is fast overall, quick in the offensive end and exceptionally good at handling the puck both on the fly and in close quarters. Hitchcock's charges took those strengths away with a strong defensive effort that kept the pressure off Cechmanek and the away from the Philadelphia net. It's not a hard system to play (although it can often be as boring for the players as it is for the fans), but it does require physical strength and mental discipline. The Flyer have that, and having seemingly recovered from the exhausting seven-game series with the Toronto , they played it well. It's almost impossible to underestimate the importance of that for the . Cechmanek can be beaten when teams get him to move around a bit, flop down and scramble. He's not particularly strong on close-in plays and especially on wrap-arounds from behind the net. The know that as well as the , but when his teammates keep the shooters to the outside or turn the shoot-ins out quickly, attackers don't get a second or third chance to get Cechmanek out of position. It's a delicate dance that has to have both the goalie and his teammates in perfect sync. When it works, it often works to perfection (the matched the New Jersey for the lowest goals-against total in the regular season). When it doesn't, the look bad and Cechmanek looks worse. Hitchcock had his charges working the system to perfection Sunday and the resulting win evened the series at 1-1. Now it's up to Martin to make adjustments for that. The rap on the Ottawa coach is that he doesn't adjust well, but he's going to have to devise a better game plan for his club if he intends to get the upper hand during the next two games in Philadelphia. The series is likely to be won or lost in those games. It will be interesting indeed if Martin has something to counter Hitchcock's defensive schemes. Props to , who continues to be the one constant on the Philadelphia offense. can be reached at his e-mail address, jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Sabres, Red Wings, Devils, Senators, Flyers, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Wild, Dominik Hasek, Brett Hull, Mark Recchi, Ed Jovanovski, Mattias Ohlund, Marian Gaborik, Manny Fernandez, Dwayne Roloson

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