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A sense of the surreal for Bolts' Mike Smith

TAMPA, Fla. -- A career is sometimes a fragile, fleeting thing.

Just ask Tampa Bay netminder Mike Smith, who earlier this year wondered if his career was over.

Dropped down the depth chart, put on waivers, sent to the minors; it was hard to imagine then that there would be a day like Saturday in his future. Certainly harder to imagine there might be a day like Saturday for him with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

And yet there he was, getting the call from head coach Guy Boucher to go over the boards and replace starter Dwayne Roloson with 2:02 left in the first period and the Boston Bruins up 3-0.

The Bruins were given power plays twice in the early minutes of the second period, but Smith was sharp and kept the score at 3-0. Then, the Lightning turned the tables on the Bruins, scoring three times in the second to tie the game, and winning it with two more in the third period.

Smith turned aside all 21 shots he faced to earn his first-ever NHL playoff victory.

Even after the game there was a sense of the surreal for Smith.

"Yeah it has been a hard run. But I can't look at it like that. I think the whole time I just focused on trying to get better every day and trying to get mentally stronger, and it's starting to pay off a little bit," he said.

"A lot of things have happened in the past couple of years with injuries, and getting sent to the minors, and thinking that I might never play in the NHL again, and just keeping my mind set on forward and not looking and dwelling on the past. As soon as you do that, you're not going to go too far," Smith said.

At the start of the regular season, Smith and Dan Ellis were poised to battle for the starting job in Tampa. But neither Ellis nor Smith provided the consistency that GM Steve Yzerman was looking for, and Yzerman acquired Roloson from the New York Islanders on Jan. 1.

Smith became the odd man out, sent to the minors after passing waivers. But Yzerman gave him another chance when he traded Ellis to Anaheim at the trade deadline.

"After I thought about the situation, I decided to work really hard and choose the hard road instead of the easy way," Smith said.

The easy way, "would have been to just give up and quit, but the hard way is to bear down and work really hard and try and get an opportunity again," Smith said.

Saturday was one of those unexpected moments when Smith was able to repay Yzerman and Boucher for their faith.

"Yeah, I never thought I would play for the Lightning again. Obviously, it was a dream to play for the Lightning, but I had that dream again to come back and play really well for them, and Steve gave me that opportunity to come back, and same with coach," Smith said.

As the switch was made, Roloson told the 29-year-old to have some fun.

"Dwayne is a great guy," Smith said. "He always has the right things to say, and he's been through it, so he just told me to go in there and relax and have some fun, you're a good goaltender. And I took those words of encouragement and went out there and tried to do my part."

Roloson said later he was proud of Smith.

"Extremely, extremely proud. He's battled through adversity all year to get to this point. To be able to come back and battle through adversity tonight to get a big win for us is great," Roloson said.

He wasn't the only teammate happy for Smith's success.

"I think it's great for him. He's been working hard, and he's a great guy and good things happen to good people," Ryan Malone said of Smith.

Rolson has now been pulled twice in this Eastern Conference series, and while head coach Boucher praised Roloson and intimated he would go back to Rolson for Game 5 Monday in Boston -- "It doesn't change the status," he said. -- there must be a niggling element of doubt.

In both cases, Smith has shut down the Bruins in relief of Roloson.

The Lightning were down 6-3 when Smith came on in the third period of Game 2, and the Lightning nearly mounted the comeback then, falling 6-5.

Smith has not allowed a goal on 29 shots in the first two playoff outings of his career.

"We have our No. 1 goaltender. He's taken us to this place right now. And that's the reason why we're here," Boucher said. "Smitty has been terrific. He's had an average of over .940 since December 15th. And the fact that Roli came in certainly helped him with pressure and poise and all that. And whenever he was asked to play since Roloson has been there, he's been terrific. I mean, he's just been terrific. So whenever it's time for him to help the team and try to change the momentum around, I don't hesitate."

Smith said he expected Roloson to return to action Monday night, while Roloson said he would do what was asked of him.

As for Saturday's effort that saw him give up three goals on nine shots, Roloson acknowledged he didn't have the start he needed.

"Every goal is a bad goal. It doesn't really matter. As a goalie, you can't focus on it. You've got to give your guys a chance to win no matter what happens, and I didn't do that, and Smitty came in and did the job for us," Roloson said.

Dive or no dive?

One of the more curious plays of Game 4 of this Eastern Conference final came late in the second period when Nathan Horton rode Steve Downie into the end boards. Downie crumbled to the ice and was assessed a diving penalty to go along with Horton's boarding penalty.

Downie did not return to the ice for the balance of the game.

Some dive.

"Well, he didn't finish the game, obviously. And he's going to be day to day starting today," Boucher said.

Nightmare in a Lightning sweater

You can forgive the Bruins if they see Simon Gagne in their nightmares. In Gagne's past eight postseason games against the Bruins, he has scored eight times, including the winner on Saturday afternoon. He also picked up two assists on the afternoon.

Last season, Gagne was one of the sparkplugs in the Flyers' historic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit against Boston.

"It's a different year. It's a different team, you're right. But there's one thing that's never changed and that's Gagne is a money player. He's a clutch player. He's always been. And I guess when he's not, it's because he's retired, because I've seen him in junior. I was lucky enough to see him play in junior, and you saw him at the Olympics, too. And whenever it's a big moment, you know he's there," Boucher said.

"So happy for him to get his game back, it was really tough to start the year, move, change of environment. He played injured, didn't want to show he was injured. So he had a very tough start. We gave him a long break to take care of what he needed to do. When he came back, he started this uphill climb that I think is still going on."

Gagne said Saturday's win was critical.

"We had no choice but to win that one," he said. "We didn't want to go into Boston down 3-1 [in the series]. We did it against the Penguins, but at this stage of the playoffs, we're facing a better team, a more balanced team. We knew that game was a must-win," he said.