BOSTON -- Dwayne Roloson's streak of victories in elimination games came to an end Friday night at TD Garden -- and yet it was one of his best performances of an incredible five months with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Roloson stopped 37 shots, including the first 34 he faced, but the Boston Bruins defeated Tampa Bay 1-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
"He was [great]," Tampa Bay captain Vinny Lecavalier said of the 41-year-old goaltender who came in a deal with the New York Islanders on Jan. 1. "Since the first day he came onto our team, he has been a great leader. He was been real steady back there for us and gave us that confidence to be able to play, knowing that he is going to make the big saves."
Roloson was 7-0 in his career in elimination games; one more victory would have given him the NHL record alone. Instead, he will share the mark with Glenn Resch, who also won his first seven postseason elimination contests with the Islanders – and lost in the same spot, one win short of a trip to the Final.
The Bruins controlled the play for long stretches of Game 7. There were no penalties called, and Boston has been one of the best teams in the League all season at even strength.
"I think Boston was coming, coming hard," coach Guy Boucher said. "We could feel our energy level going down. A lot of the guys have been drained from the previous series, and [Roloson] really stood the fort there. He was outstanding tonight. It was a one-goal game -- just one goal takes you to the Stanley Cup Finals. I don't think he could have stopped that puck and I don't think he could have done better than what he did tonight. I mean, 41 years old -- can't do more than that. It's impressive. It's mental toughness. He had a little lull in some of the previous games, and to come back that strong in the seventh game, it's just a credit to the man. That's impressive. That's really impressive."
Boston's lone goal against Roloson came with 7:33 left in regulation. Andrew Ference hit David Krejci with a pass that split a seam in Tampa Bay's 1-3-1 defense. Krejci raced into the left circle and fed a pass into the slot, where Nathan Horton tapped it past a helpless Roloson from just outside the crease.
Roloson said his read was to stick with Krejci as he went wide. Tampa Bay defenseman Eric Brewer was unable to break up the pass and partner Mattias Ohlund was a stride behind Horton, who was able to direct Krejci's pass into the net.
"It is playoff hockey. The difference is always one play," Roloson said. "That's just the way it is. We had some chances and they had some chances. Unfortunately they were able to capitalize on one and we weren't able to."
Roloson was often spectacular as he kept his club in the contest. He stopped Milan Lucic on a breakaway in the first period. He made back-to-back right leg/toe saves on Mark Recchi in the second period.
He made at least two saves with his helmet. When the Lightning needed to regroup, especially in the second period, Roloson was able to collect the puck and set up a faceoff.
"I felt good. I felt good the whole series." Roloson said. "It was just one of those things, like puck luck and things like that happen. It is part of the game. Unfortunately I didn't do quite a good enough job tonight to give our guys a chance to win."
Obviously his teammates disagreed with that assessment.
"We could never really just get our legs going," center Steven Stamkos said. "They did a good job and [Roloson] played outstanding for us. He played the game that we needed him to play in order for us to win on this particular night and it is too bad we couldn't find one."
Roloson began this season with the rebuilding Islanders, but the trade Tampa Bay changed the course of his season. He finished the 2011 playoffs with a 10-6 record, a .924 save percentage and a 2.51 goals against average.
Roloson's future is uncertain -- he turns 42 on Oct. 12 and will become an unrestricted free agent July 1 if he doesn't sign a new contract with the Lightning before then.
After Game 7, he sounded like a guy who's interested in returning.
"It is always fun to play in Game 7s," Roloson said. "I give our guys a lot of credit. We've battled through a lot of adversity ever since I've been here and we battled through a lot of adversity in the playoffs. Guys grew and came together as a team. We battled for one another and that's the key thing. That's what makes great teams -- how well guys want to play for one another."