The decision was only made the day before.

It was the explanation that had been evolving for months and months.

When he stripped away the emotion, and eliminated the ramifications and risk, Lightning coach Guy Boucher was left with one simple thought:

Mike Smith had earned a shot to be Tampa Bay's goaltender in Game 5.

He earned it by keeping his cool and throwing himself into his work when he was sent to the minors. And he earned it by playing brilliantly as a spot starter down the stretch.

He earned it by doing everything he was asked, right up until the moment that Boucher called him into his office after the morning skate on Monday and gave him the news.

"As a leader I have to give to people who are deserving," Boucher said. "If (Nate) Thompson has a great season and (Adam) Hall has a great season and (Sean) Bergenheim and (Dominic) Moore, it's because they don't feel like they're third- and fourth-liners. They feel like they've contributed. They're allowed to be better than just being pegged. And it's the same for goaltenders.

"Smith's contributions have been tremendous for us, and he's one of the reasons we had that many points, and 46 wins. I just felt he deserved to play in that game."

By night's end, Boucher was vindicated even if he wasn't rewarded.

The Lightning lost 3-1 to the Bruins in Game 5 Monday night, and it was because Boston goaltender Tim Thomas was significantly better than Smith.

Which is not the same thing as saying Smith was the reason the Lightning lost. Smith was more than solid in his first start of the playoffs, it's just that Thomas was incredible.

So where does that leave the Lightning today?

Boucher wouldn't say, but my guess is back in Dwayne Roloson's hands.

Part of the appeal of starting Smith in Game 5 was that Boucher was able to wait until the last minute to say anything. He spent two days hinting that Roloson would get the call, even though Boucher had made up his mind by the time he got to Boston on Sunday.