Going into the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning could not have been worried about a potential goaltending disadvantage.
Tim Thomas was coming off a career year, setting a new record for single-season save percentage, and ranking second in the league with nine shutouts. Dwayne Roloson had silenced all the naysayers as he shut down the Penguins and Capitals in the first two rounds, similar to what Jaroslav Halak accomplished last year for Montreal.
Both teams seemed to come flying out of the second round, sweeping their series and earning a long break before the rest of the semi-finals finished off.
But heading into Game 7 tomorrow night at TD Garden in Boston, the play of Roloson and Thomas will ultimately decide who advances to meet Vancouver in the Stanley Cup Finals, and both have had good and bad games throughout the series.
Thomas has allowed 19 goals against in the first six games of this series, but also posted a 31 save shutout in Game 3, as well as only allowing one goal on 34 shots in Game 5.
Roloson, who has been pulled twice this series and even gave up a start to backup Mike Smith in Game 5, has allowed two goals or more in each game this series. He was pulled in Game 2 after letting in six goals on 27 shots, and again in the first period of Game 4 after being beaten three times on just nine shots.
Thomas, who always plays on the edge, will have to be ready early and not allow Tampa Bay to get ahead in the opening minutes of the game. In Game 6, Teddy Purcell scored only 36 seconds in, two nights after Simon Gagne scored just after the one minute mark in Game 5. The earliest of goals came in Game 2, when Tampa's Adam Hall scored thirteen seconds after the opening draw.
Roloson will be on a short leash for the Lightning, as his less than impressive performance in Game 6 was enough to earn him the start, but it probably wasn't the bounce-back game head coach Guy Boucher was looking for. Roloson allowed four goals on just 20 shots, and will have to be much sharper in Game 7 or Boucher will likely not hesitate to put in Mike Smith, even just to give the Lightning a confidence boost.
Both goaltenders have had brilliant games throughout this series and the rest of the playoffs, and Thomas, a Vezina-trophy finalist, and Roloson, a 41-year-old veteran, will certainly be ready for one of the biggest games of their careers. The only question remaining before puck drop is which one will take over, and lead their team into the Stanley Cup Finals, where a juggernaut in the Vancouver Canucks awaits ever so patiently.