NHL Playoff Game Night: 4/15/11 Lightning at Penguins
A 1-1 series tie feels a lot like a Lightning lead heading back to Tampa Bay.
Series Tied 1-1
Dwayne Roloson allowed 1 goal on 36 shots for the victory. I don't think it's close in terms of who the better goaltender has been in this series. Fleury has not been impressive, shutout or no, and of the 3 goals Roloson has allowed, 2 have pretty much been self-inflicted. People need to be talking about the Roloson mystique more-so than the "Flower" mystique, in my opinion.
"Flower" allowed Brewer to look like Bobby Hull going high glove tonight on the first goal, kicked a rebound that would make Donald Igwebuike proud onto Thompson's stick for the third goal, and allowed St. Louis to bury the nail-in-the-coffin from below the goal line on the fourth goal. Combine that with the first period near-softie to Moore in Game One and his puck handling gaffe in the third period of that game that he miraculously didn't pay for and he's not painting a picture of brilliance so far. I've always been of the opinion, going back to when he was a junior, that Fleury is very streaky. At times he's a good player, but he's not a great player. I don't think Fleury can steal this series from the Lightning by himself, and the Lightning should not fear him. Tonight was case in point why.
02:02 TB Brewer (1), Gagne (1), Hedman (1)
06:53 TB Lecavalier (1), Gagne (2), St Louis (1)(PP)
17:02 TB Thompson (1), Downie (1), Brewer (1)
09:08 PIT Adams (1), Asham (1)
19:46 TB St Louis (1), Gagne (3), Brewer (2)(PP)
17:55 TB Ohlund (1), unassisted (SH)(EN)
Eric Brewer, Simon Gagne, and Martin St. Louis were the game's three stars.
So what changed between Game One and Game Two? I thought the Lightning played their nastiest, most physical period of the season to open the game, and the Pens looked completely stunned by it. Whereas in Game One the Pens were knocking the Lightning horizontal in the first period, the Lightning put several Pens down to the ice in the first in Game Two. And, it wasn't just the usual suspects like Ohlund. It was guys like Bergenheim and Hedman. The Pens were not prepared to face a Lightning team that was willing to play with that much aggression and edge, and if the Lightning continue to play with that much aggression and edge, I don't see how the Pens win this series without Crosby coming back. That's why I would not be surprised to see Sid back for Game Three.
The Pens need a game changer, because the Lightning just showed Pittsburgh the director's cut of what the rest of this series could be like, and it ain't pretty for the boys from the Steel City. Remember when the Russian mob catches up to Denzel Washington at the end of Training Day? Yeah, a lot like that. The Pens have only managed 3 non-empty net goals on Dwayne Roloson through 2 games and their power play has been laughably shambolic. The Pens are getting shots, and trying to play a meat and potatoes game, but that won't get them to the pay window with the way Roloson is performing. They need more skill to win this series.
The Lightning have figured out how to crack the Pens defense to get scoring opportunities and Fleury is mortal now that the Lightning have calibrated their bomb sights in Game Two and are actually hitting the net on the chances they get. The Pens don't look like a team with the firepower to score goals in their current configuration and they don't look like they can hold the Lightning down to 1-2 goals a game, either. They need Crosby back, and if he comes back, the Lightning better be ready to put him horizontal, too. Sure, the refs will try to protect him, but they can't let him settle into the series if he returns. He can't be in top conditioning and timing, and the Lightning must physically rattle him to exploit it. Put him on the ice and have your penalty killers ready to go when the refs break out their whistles.
Crosby or no, though, I expect Tampa to be rocking for Game Three and Game Four. Nothing in sports galvanizes a city like playoff hockey when its club looks like a legitimate threat to go deep in the postseason, and the Lightning darned sure looked like a threat tonight.
Heaven help the Pens if Guy Boucher can manage to get Stamkos' face off the side of the milk carton.
Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.