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ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

Craig MacTavish gave it about two seconds' worth of thought and decided he just couldn't afford to play Dwayne Roloson.

It made perfect sense, of course. No point jeopardizing your starting goalie, your playoff chances and your job in a meaningless regular season finale.

"It wasn't worth the risk," said the coach, who started Ty Conklin instead, and had Jussi Markkanen at the ready in case Conklin, for some strange reason, didn't last 60 minutes.

"It would have been nice to keep (Roloson) going, it's one game in a week, but when you factor in the risk of him getting hurt it wasn't worthwhile."

THAT'S A SMART PLAY

Perfect sense, and a refreshing change from all the other times they were nervous about playing their newly acquired keeper - only then it was more about protecting themselves than protecting him.

Now, after 19-straight starts, he's gone from being a shaky mess who lost six of his first eight starts, frittering away the playoff spot he was brought here to deliver, to a piece of the puzzle so important they don't dare dress him in a meaningless game.

"(MacTavish) came in and asked me if I felt like playing," said Roloson. "I said 'Yeah.' He said 'I'd rather you didn't.' "

His transformation hasn't been smooth, easy or pretty to watch - and, to be perfectly honest, it probably isn't even complete. But it's playoff time, so ready or not, here he is.

"I feel all right," said Roloson, who knows he'll be carrying the hopes and dreams of a city that hasn't fully embraced him yet. "Sometimes you can put too much pressure on yourself when you try to do too much, so I just try and focus on my job."

That ability to shut out negative distractions is one of the primary reasons he survived those first few weeks in Edmonton. His numbers were terrible (13 goals against in his first three games), he was losing games instead of winning them and the fans and media were circling like wolves.

He could have easily wilted under the pressure, like other Oiler whipping boys have, but he didn't.

"It was impressive," teammate Shawn Horcoff said of Roloson's resurrection. "Edmonton isn't the easiest place to play. The media is quick to get on you, especially if you're a new guy.

"He could have very easily folded it up and moved on to a different team, said it didn't work out here. But he stuck with it. Now, who knows what we can parlay this into."

COOL-HAND DWAYNE

"He's a cool guy in terms of the pressure," added MacTavish. "He settled in. He believes in himself."

Roloson says thick skin just comes with the territory when you stop pucks for a living. He's been ripped before, and knows he'll be ripped again.

"It's just experience," he said. "You learn to deal with things. I learned in college to fight through a lot of that stuff, and tried to get better with it as I got older. I told coach MacTavish when I got here that I haven't played a heck of a lot since the beginning of January, so I might be a little rusty at first. It was great that I had the opportunity to play through all of that stuff.

"I tried to take advantage of it."

It's not easy trying to find your game on a new team that's fighting for its playoff life, but he managed.

"You can't put the added pressure on yourself, especially coming into the situation that I was coming into," sid Roloson, who's held opponents to two or fewer goals in five of his last six starts.

"I tried to forget about it and just go out and play the game, give our guys a chance."

That's all they ask. And from what we've seen so far, it's probably all he has to give.

Roloson is no world beater - he can make the big save when called on, then let in a soft one at inopportune times - but he has two things going for him heading into Detroit: He's won in the playoffs before, and he's a fighter.


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