As we head toward the conclusion of the Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay quarterfinal series in game seven on Wednesday, we’re also nearing the end of a series-long collaboration between myself and FromThePoint.com’s Brian Metzer. It’s been a blast on my end and an honor to finally work together with Metz on a project, after years of knowing the guy professionally and respecting the hell out of what he’s done both on his own and for multiple other media outlets. I’m sure we’ll get together once more after game seven is in the history books but, in case that leaves me on Silly Street, mentally, and I forget to make mention of what a treat this has been, well, there… At least I know that’s taken care of…
For now, here are Metz’s answers to my latest round of questions after the Bolts knotted things up last night. I expect to give my response to his most recent queries soon as well.
JJ: You and I both knew this was going to be a tightly-contested series and, while neither of us had it going seven, we knew it had that potential. Wednesday should be a doozy. That said, looking ahead, what on Earth are we supposed to expect?
With a gritty 4-2 win in game six at home tonight, the Tampa Bay Lightning have made a game seven date with the Pittsburgh Penguins, for a spot in the conference semifinals – or a spot on the first tee.
Fitting that this one’s going the distance, really.
Most of us had this pegged as a close series from the get-go and it has certainly been that. But it’s also had just about everything – almost precisely on a game-by-game basis, making game seven about as unpredictable as they come, despite the perceived momentum in Tampa Bay’s corner after staving off elimination twice in a row.
Game 1: Marc-Andre Fleury shuts out the Bolts, prompting questions (and some media-induced panic) about how to beat him.
Game 2: Tampa Bay is sparked by an early goal from defenseman Eric Brewer and break out offensively in a 5-1 win.
Game 3: The Bolts come out flying (perhaps a little too much) and the experienced Pens take advantage of mistakes to go up 2-0. The Lightning rally back to tie but Pittsburgh breaks their hearts just seconds later.
Game 4: Perhaps overadjusting from the previous game’s overaggression, Tampa looks awfully dead, especially for a playoff game, in the early-going. The Pens go up a deuce again but the Bolts rally back to force overtime. Two extra periods in, James Neal sneaks one past Dwayne Roloson and the series is 3-1 Penguins.
Game 5: Facing elimination, the Lightning buck some serious odds, not by winning so much, but by blowing the Pens out of their own barn, 8-2. Perhaps most importantly in this one, Steven Stamkos finally finds the back of the net for Tampa – twice.
Game 6: Tampa Bay lives to fight another day yet again, thanks this time to a bevy of role players contributing offensively and, namely, Steve Downie, who in my opinion had his best game as a professional.
Some final thoughts tonight on yesterday’s game five blowout win for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who pulled within a single win of evening things up with the Pittsburgh Penguins and sending this back-and-forth, wildly unpredictable series (that happens to be going about as I had, um, predicted thus far, oddly enough) to what would no doubt be an epic game seven.
Before that can happen, the Pens and Bolts will square off once again in my neck of the woods tomorrow night for game six at the St. Pete Times Forum.
And before that can happen, of course, I had to check in with my main man, Brian Metzer once again, for this particular Pittsburgh insider’s take on the 8-2 drubbing on Saturday and where things MIGHT be headed from here…
JJ: So, we’re one Pittsburgh win away from my series prediction being dead-on. After getting pasted 8-2, however, how confident do you think this Pens bunch is? I mean, they’re still in the driver’s seat and all, needing just one win in the two remaining games to move one, but that was some beat-down (and on home ice, no less). This group is so full of professionals, they’ll know to put it behind them but, one would have to think, there have to be some bruised egos in that room…
BM: It is worth noting that we both look like hockey prognosticating gods! Six games was the direction we each went and it looks like we could see that go down.
Though this Penguins team was a bit shell shocked by what happened on Saturday afternoon, I am not sure the egos are bruised as much at the attitudes have gone surely. They realize that they allowed the Lightning a big time reprieve and aren’t happy about it.
The Collabo Continues: Questions from Metz, Answers from JJ (Gm 5 Blowout, Roli, What’s Next & More)
Wow. Game five really raised some major question marks about the ultimate end result of the Penguins/Lightning series and sparked some interesting storylines moving forward, didn’t it?
Continuing our ongoing collaborative efforts throughout the series, I’ve checked in yet again to answer a series of questions from FromThePoint.com’s Brian Metzer.
Here’s a peek at the first Q&A from our latest showdown and a link over to FTP for the rest:
BM: We have seen almost everything in this series… I guess it is high time that we got a blowout! The good part of the game is that the Lightning got contributions from a number of the players that we have been criticizing for not showing up. They got points from 13 different players, goals from five guys not named St. Louis and saw the first big contributions from Steven Stamkos and Pavel Kubina. Was this a good thing in your estimation or are you concerned that it was a bit too much of a good thing? It seems that sometimes you are looking at a situation where you only have so many in the hopper and the Penguins defense will certainly play better on Monday.
JJ: Honestly, my friend, at this point? I don’t even know how to answer this one. After an 8-2 decision, and what we’ve seen the rest of the series, what we see on Monday could literally be anything. Had I not seen the overeager, mistake-prone play the Bolts put forth in the first period of game three, and had I not seen the lax, sleepwalking Lightning of game four’s first period, I’d fully anticipate a jacked-up Bolts bunch ready to knot this thing up in game six.
All in all, I think that’s what they’ll aim to be, but this Lightning team has not yet shown an ability to master the emotional stability needed to perform at home in the playoffs.
As promised, my latest round of answers to the latest round of questions from Brian Metzer of FromThePoint.com, on all things game four and what’s to come from here…
BM: The Lightning managed to score 241 goals during the NHL’s regular season, good for 8th in the league. However, now that the playoffs are four games old, they are looking like a team with a serious lack of scoring depth. They have scored just nine goals in the series, four of which came from the blade of Marty St. Louis. It is also worth noting that if you remove the fact that they put up five during a Game 2 victory, they have scored just four in the remaining three games. How big a concern is that lack of production moving forward in the series? Have Marc-Andre Fleury and his defense been that good?
JJ: It’s huge, Metz but you have to give credit where credit is due. Fleury has been excellent and the Penguins, as a team – not just the defensemen, have clamped down with the lead. Of course, in games three and four, the Lightning willed their way to tying things up, but they had to rely on relentless individual efforts to do so, particularly last night, and probably exhausted themselves in the process. Pittsburgh has now scored the first goal of the game three times in the series and, voila! They’ve won all three times. You can’t come back all the time and the Lightning have got to have better starts, period.
As for scoring depth, as you pointed out, save for game two and Sean Bergenheim last night, what scoring depth? After Marty’s four, the Lightning have not a player with more than a single goal; five with one apiece. Mattias Ohlund’s goal was an empty-netter. Take out that and Eric Brewer’s game two tally, and you have three goals from forwards not named Martin St. Louis in four games.
That’s just not getting it done.
Game four’s double-overtime winner by Pittsburgh’s James Neal meant many things. One, the Penguins now lead the Lightning three games to one in the series. Two, unless the Bolts can manage to turn things around – and fast – Tampa Bay hockey fans won’t soon stop talking about that particular goal, right or wrong. And three, and perhaps most importantly, it’s time once again to check in with FromThePoint.com’s Brian Metzer for his take on the latest events in this series from his so very astute and insightful Pittsburgh-based point of view:
JJ: Well, Metz… We got the overtime(s) we predicted. It wasn’t really hard to see that coming. But, while each game, for the most part, has been as tightly-contested, score-wise, as we both thought coming in, I personally thought last night’s game was awfully one-sided for a double-overtime thriller. Specifically, I thought the Penguins controlled the play throughout and that the Lightning were only afforded the chance to win on the efforts of a few hard-headed individuals. Did you see the same dominance from the Pens that I did, despite them having to squeak out the win in the 83rd minute? And did last night’s game ever scare you, from a Pittsburgh perspective, in the sense that it had every bit the look of being one of those playoff games that “the wrong team” would win?
BM: I will start with part two of that one sir. There were plenty of moments late in that game when I was scared about the outcome. The first probably being when Bergenheim tied things up late in the third period. It was something hat we had seen a ton of times over the second half of the season – a group of Penguins who dominated, but weren’t able to get the back breaking goal. Once you let a team get up off of their heels and tie it, anything could have happened. I was also a bit concerned about the two power play opportunities – one in the third period and one in overtime – the Lightning had started to get some chances after the Penguins had sort of “slowed their roll” through their first two chances of the evening. I was definitely bracing for a “wrong team winning” situation. I also said out loud: “The longer this game goes on, the more important it becomes.”
When you’re outworked for the majority of a game and the end result doesn’t end up going your way, there shouldn’t be much in the way of surprise at the outcome.
And the reality of it is, that’s what happened to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night.
As double-overtime games go, this one wasn’t that close. The score may have ended up tied after 60 minutes and beyond but the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins controlled the play throughout and, when that happens, you just can’t expect to win.
So enough labeling of last night’s game four loss for Tampa Bay as heartbreaking, if that’s what you’ve been doing.
It wasn’t theirs to win.
Last night, my Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay playoff series partner in crime, Brian Metzer of FromThePoint.com and I hooked up for a special, largely impromptu podcast, discussing all things Pens and Bolts in a show that turned out to be a lot of fun.
We hit on as much as possible, including what’s happened in the series so far, where we see things going from here, key players to this point, as well as those that have disappointed, a quick peek at the coinciding Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins vs. Norfolk Admirals Calder Cup playoff series and so much more. We even had a few guests stop by and, as I am wont to do, I got off a few cracks at Metz’s expense.
If you enjoyed my old show, The Bolts Beat, while the co-host was different, the vibe was quite similar and you should leave pleased. (By the by, no one’s given up on a return for TBB just yet. While it would take a minor miracle for that to happen during these playoffs, at the very least, it’s an off-season priority, even in a different incarnation, if necessary.)
If you’re just looking for more on what has been an intense playoff series so far, there’s about on hour’s worth of extensive banter for you as well.
So, fill part of your day with a listen to last night’s show RIGHT HERE from Metz and I. If this series goes long enough, we’ve agreed to try and put together a follow-up.
Hookin’ it up with Metz once again, for the latest installment of his questions for me and, of course, my answers!
Here’s a peek at the latest round before a link to FTP for the rest:
BM: I realize that you asked me a question about the fact that the Lightning might have been a little too amped up to start the game, but I am a bit curious, have they been instructed to out-physical the Pens? The birds have made it an edict to lay the body and to be physical as often as possible, it is all part of the Disco Dan system, but the Lightning have done a great job of staying neck and neck in the hit department. Heck, in all actuality, they have outhit the Penguins. What is your take?
JJ: I think a key for the Bolts is to stay even-keeled in terms of playing an aggressive, physical game and – CATCH PHRASE ALERT – staying within their system. They can hit like crazy, as can the Pens, as we’ve seen but, on at least three occasions last night, that proved costly:
One, Ryan Malone and James Neal collide hard in the corner early on in the game and Malone leaves the worse for wear. Granted, that could happen to any player on any play but it isn’t as though these guys can just go all out with reckless abandon. As you well know, Bugsy’s as huge a piece for the Lightning as he once was for the Penguins, if not more. (We will all have to keep a close eye on how he fares the rest of the way.)
Two, Steve Downie’s railroading of Ben Lovejoy not only led to a Pens goal (well, sort of… Coach Boucher seemed to think guys were standing around admiring the aftermath as Max Talbot and Co. headed up ice, eventually opening the scoring) but we know now that it costs the Lightning Downie’s services in game four. (That the suspension to Chris Kunitz evens the score, so to speak, is immaterial, to make this point.)
[UPDATE: We’re going live now at 8:00. I blame that darn Pittsburghian (Pittsburgher? Pit Stain? Hmmm…) Apologies!]
Join Brian Metzer of FromThePoint.com and myself for a live podcast this evening.
Listen along here, call in or fire away in the chat with your questions, to be answered during the show. Metz and I are going to keep this one light-hearted, chat all-things Pens/Bolts, possibly have a special guest or two jump in and, hell, maybe we’ll even crack a cold one or two during the show. (Hey, it’s an off-day!)
[NOTE: Replaced the original widget with an archived link of the show.]
The fun kicks off at 8:00 PM, ET.