It’s time, once again, to hear a take from the other side of things, checking in with FromThePoint.com’s Brian Metzer, for his reaction to the Penguins’ 3-2 game two victory to take a 2-1 lead over the Lightning in the series…
JJ: We talked earlier about the Penguins having to do a better job at clearing out the crease area in front of Marc-Andre Fleury and limiting second (and third) chances for the Lightning. You even hinted at the possibility of Deryk Engelland getting his way into a game to help with just that. Engelland took the warm-up last night but did not play. Overall, I thought Pittsburgh did a better job of maintaining position down low, despite both Martin St. Louis goals coming off of rebound chances. It sounds weird to say that, since the Lightning only kept it close in this one on the strength of those two tallies, but I did see improvement in that area from Pittsburgh’s perspective nonetheless. What say you, good sir?
BM: I would agree with you JJ. The Penguins did a much better job of keeping the Lightning to the perimeter. They didn’t allow as much traffic to just camp out in front of Marc-Andre Fleury as they had done on Friday evening. There were still a few occasions in which the Lightning were able to get body position in front of Fleury and it resulted in a couple of good scoring chances for them.
The Penguins clearly were willing to do what it took in that “dirty” area though, as evidenced by Mike Rupp’s penalty on Ryan Malone. In watching that situation play out I looked at it as a play that would have resulted in a goal for the Lightning during Game 2, but it was counteracted with rare “smart” penalty.
I would look for the Penguins to do a lot more of what you saw last night moving forward. Keeping that net front area clean will become just as important as the discipline, physicality and quick puck movement that they have been preaching.
Quick thoughts on both questionable hits from last night’s Pens/Bolts game three:
First, on Steve Downie’s apparent charge on Ben Lovejoy, which would have been called a penalty, had Max Talbot not scored just moments later.
At first glance (which for me came via the tail-end of a bad replay, having missed the play when it happened because I was on the phone with TSN Radio) I thought Downie appeared to leave his feet only after the initial point of contact. Later, having seen the replay again in much more clarity, the penalty that Downie would have been assessed certainly would have been just. By definition, that was a charge.
I wonder, then, if he might come out of today’s hearing with a fine, maybe, but no suspension? A penalty was being assessed. That said call was wiped out because of a goal should have no bearing on that fact. Lovejoy wasn’t injured on the play, something that is often taken into consideration on supplemental discipline decisions these days (though whether that should happen or not is a subject up for much debate).
Naturally, Downie’s status as a repeat offender could come into play and, if he does get suspended, the guess here is that would definitely be a contributing factor. [Edit: Downie hasn’t been in hot water with the league since March 16, 2010 when he was fined $1,000 for an attempt to injure Sidney Crosby. Not sure if that fine counts as part of the 18-month window a player must stay clean within to avoid said repeat offender status or if that only pertains to suspensions. Will research…]
From a bottom-line perspective, that the Tampa Bay Lightning fell short in their efforts to take the series lead at home in game three will leave them disappointed.
We’ve already accounted for the emotional up-and-downs of last night’s 3-2 win for Pittsburgh but there were several positives that deserve more discussion, from the Lightning’s perspective.
1 – The atmosphere at the St. Pete Times Forum was incredible. From fans gathering on the plaza before the game, to an elaborate audiovisual presentation on the Forum ice as game time neared, “electric” doesn’t even begin to describe the vibe of the crowd and the general feeling surrounding the first home playoff game in Tampa in four years.
It was as loud throughout as I’ve ever heard that building (keeping in mind, of course, that I wasn’t around for this club’s trademark moment in 2004).
It was an emotional night in what is becoming an increasingly emotional series.
Perhaps, in hindsight for the Tampa Bay Lightning, it was a bit too emotional from the get-go.
In front of a frenzied St. Pete Times Forum crowd, witnessing its first home playoff action in four years, the Bolts came out flying and a physical tone was set immediately, with several rattling collisions in the opening minutes. Unfortunately for the Lightning, one such run-in, between Ryan Malone and Pittsburgh’s James Neal, hobbled the Tampa Bay forward, who missed most of the first period but battled through later in the game. Another, involving Steve Downie and Penguin defenseman Ben Lovejoy, could end up costing Downie some time in the Lightning lineup by way of a suspension, as he appeared to leave his feet in delivering the hit.
But Lovejoy was able to get the puck out of the zone before being toppled by Downie and that exit pass set up Maxime Talbot’s opening tally to put the Pens ahead.
Soon after, an aggressive attempt by Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman to take out attacking Pittsburgh forward Mike Rupp at the blueline came up empty. Rupp side-stepped Hedman, entered the Lightning zone and connected with Arron Asham for the game’s second goal.
Before I hop right into a night’s worth of radio spots here and there, some quick, last-minute reading to get you prepped for Penguins/Lightning game three here at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Without further delay, a sneak peek at the latest collaboration between FromThePoint.com‘s Brian Metzer and myself, his latest questions for me heading into tonight’s pivotal matchup and then a link to the rest:
BM: Though Simon Gagne has been in and out of the line-up throughout the season, he has a lot of playoff experience and more importantly a lot of experience in playing the Penguins. He was another of the heroes of Game 2 and looked a like the guy that Yzerman hoped he had brought in with three helpers. To your knowledge has he given any specific input on tactics that could be helpful against the Penguins? Can you speak to the intangibles that a guy like Gagne brings to the team?
JJ: While I cannot speak to Gagne having any specific pointers on playing against the Penguins in the playoffs, I’m sure, like many of the other veterans, he’s interjected an opinion or two and some general advice stemming from his extensive postseason experience as a professional. More important than that, however, and more valuable to the team overall, is the penchant for clutch performance that Gagne brings, especially at this time of the year, when literally everything is on the line.
When Gagne was brought in from Philadelphia this past summer, for defenseman Matt Walker and a fourth-round pick, his ultimate value to the club was always going to be measured by playoff success. On one hand, a guy like Gagne was brought in to help get this team to the playoffs and, on the other, to put his 90+ games of postseason experience to good use and contribute regularly. If the Bolts make any sort of extended run, I have a sneaky suspicion that Gagne’s trio of helpers in game two was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, in terms of offensive production.
Playoff action at the AHL level kicked off last week as well and the top affiliates for the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals are all underway in their chase for the Calder Cup.
Charlotte (Carolina) and Hershey (Washington) are battling each other in the East Quarterfinals while Norfolk (Tampa Bay) takes on regular season stalwart, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pittsburgh).
As we did throughout the regular season, let’s take a look at the games that have been played thus far, from a bottom-line, statistical point of view. Since this is the playoffs, however, we’ll toss in a little overview for each as well.
Click for individual box scores
Drayson Bowman’s goal just past the midway point of the third period proved to be the deciding factor, putting Charlotte ahead to stay in a back-and-forth affair with Hershey in game one. After Steve Pinizzotto opened the scoring just 1:10 into the game for the Bears, Zac Dalpe and Chris Terry each scored for the Checkers to give Charlotte a 2-1 lead. Keith Aucoin knotted things up for Hershey on the power play, late in the opening frame and the teams traded goals in the second period to head to the third tied at 3-3.
It’s been four long years, Tampa Bay, but playoff hockey is finally back at the St. Pete Times Forum tonight, as the Lightning look to take a 2-1 series lead over the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.
From a personal standpoint, I have to admit, I’m pretty jacked up about tonight, which will actually be my first in-person encounter with a playoff game in any sport, from any perspective. I’ve never covered a postseason game (there have been none to speak of in my time here, of course), nor have I ever so much as attended one as a fan. (I did once get dragged to a NBA playoff game long ago, but I don’t even like basketball, so that doesn’t count.)
More than anything, I’m just excited for the great hockey fans of this area to have the well-deserved opportunity to watch their team battle with so much on the line. I can’t speak to what the atmosphere will be like but I anticipate that it will be every bit as electric as the playoff hockey scene is advertised to be. It will take a concerted effort on my part, I’m sure, to avoid getting wrapped up in that this evening.
I’ll be checking in periodically tonight with the boys from the newly-launched TSN Radio for in-game updates so, if you’re reading this from the Great White North (or you’re streaming their broadcast online), you can catch me there this evening. Ever bipartite, I’ll also be jumping on SiriusXM NHL Home Ice after tonight’s game to recap all the action.
Giant bounce-back game for the Bolts last night, no doubt. My overdue take on the 5-1 victory will come later tonight (long overdue, I admit, but I had to dedicate myself to a very worthwhile cause this morning – the Walk Now for Autism Speaks event here in Tampa – and I’m quite proud to have raised a solid chunk of cash for a great cause and to have participated in an event of that magnitude… Anyway…)
Continuing our ongoing meeting of the minds for this series, I checked back in with FromThePoint.com’s Brian Metzer for his take, from the Pittsburgh side of things, on the Lightning evening things up in decisive fashion last night.
JJ: In the first period, I thought the Pens just came out too fired up, perhaps… Max Talbot took a silly penalty and then, after that, I thought maybe they overadjusted, as in, took the physical play back a notch and, lo and behold, next thing we know, Tampa’s up 2-0. Did you see that and, if not, what else went wrong for your Penguins?
BM: That’s a good point, though it almost seemed as if they weren’t too fired up so much as a bit jumpy. It sort of seemed as if there was a bit of a role reversal from Wednesday evening…where the Pens became the more nervous/inexperienced group. Not to say that the Lightning looked very nervous on Wednesday, but the Pens had them on their heels for big chunks of the second and third periods during Game 1.
The Penguins took far too many penalties, though I thought the officiating was a bit too tight for both sides. Some eyebrow raisers for both teams… sometimes I would prefer that they just let them play a bit more… that said, the Penguins defense as a unit played one of their worst games of the season.
Kris Letang looked worn out and lost getting best for the first two Lightning goals. Paul Martin made a number of bad decisions with the puck and most of them turned into scoring opportunities the other way. None of the Penguins blue liners could get a handle on the puck at the blue line and it caused a ton of momentum to be lost in the offensive zone. The best way to describe it – they had a case of the yips.
The mantra of a club that falls down 1-0 in any playoff series is often a reminder that one loss is just that and nothing more. With that in mind, the Tampa Bay Lightning will look to even things up tonight at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh in game two of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the Penguins.
To do so, the Bolts will have to cut down on the number of power play opportunities afforded the other side, firm up on defensive positioning in their own end and, oh yeah, put at least one puck past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the Pittsburgh crease.
But before returning home to Tampa for games three and four, while a win tonight is undoubtedly the best-bet scenario, more than anything, the Lightning need to achieve some measurable level of success on the road, if they’re going to have any real shot at advancing into the next round.
Continuing our collaborative efforts in tackling the Penguins/Lightning series from every angle, I’ve once again teamed with FromThePoint‘s Brian Metzer, sharing my take on some specifics topics of his choice from game one (as he did for me earlier).
Have a look, sneak preview-style, at the first of those inquiries here. After the jump, head on over FTP way for the rest.
BM: Though there has been much talk about Zbynek Michalek’s uncalled high stick on Marty St. Louis, it seemed that the Lightning played a bit undisciplined themselves. I am not saying that based solely on their seven penalties, but on the fact that it seemed that they not afraid to play rough and or get their sticks into guys. What is your take on the situation? Was that due to the fact that they do not fear the Penguins power play at all?
JJ: It’s no secret that the Lightning need to avoid going shorthanded six times, like they did last night, looking ahead. As Coach Boucher talked about, even though Pittsburgh didn’t score, that changes your team’s approach and is so taxing on the penalty-killers. It affects the whole team. The Lightning couldn’t really get into a flow because of a constant parade to the box.
They can play a physical game and, you’re right, aren’t afraid to go that route but the bottom line remains that they have to be careful about getting into penalty trouble. No doubt that played a factor last night.