Kukla's Korner

Bolts/Pens Game One as Tight as Expected, Look for More of the Same Moving Forward

Game one between Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay was about what most probably expected, in terms of style, intensity, strategy and even end result. In a toss-up series that most have conceded can end up going either way, last night’s game was a small example of just that. In the end, the home squad prevailed, largely on the heroics of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and, though the final score will reflect a three-goal difference (thanks, in part to an empty netter), the teams battled in just the type of tightly-contested matchup the series itself should ultimately reflect.

From the Lightning’s perspective, they have to look at it as just one game. They can be disappointed (as well they should) and lament missed opportunities (of which, they had many) but game one is over and done with and they’ll do what they’ve done all year, win or lose, in wiping it clean off the slate and starting anew.

As for the Penguins, game one appeared to be the execution of exactly what they’d hoped to do from the start – a tight defensive game, strong goaltending and a timely goal to shift the momentum. Alexei Kovalev’s third period tally did just that and perhaps the Bolts hung their heads thereafter, even just for a moment.

That moment, of course, was one too much and, in it, Arron Asham extended the lead to 2-0. There were times during the regular season when Tampa Bay (and goaltender Dwayne Roloson, in particular) lost composure after an untimely goal against and never recovered. While this may not have been an extended repetition of just that, as Roloson and the Bolts did appear to regain confidence and poise late, it can serve as a lesson for a team short on playoff experience that in the postseason, such a singular moment of self-wallowing can prove costly.

The positives for Tampa Bay? Roloson was good. Working against him (and them) was Fleury, who was great. Goaltending shouldn’t be a concern moving forward in the series.

They had plenty of chances, sending 32 shots in Fleury’s direction. He just stopped them all.

Save for a blip or two, the defense was steady and didn’t fall victim to panic when pressured by Pittsburgh in their own zone. Unfortunately for the Lightning, Kovalev was left alone in front by a stickless Pavel Kubina on the decisive goal. Twig or no twig, Kubina has to have position there.

Victor Hedman, a supposed weak link (at least according to one former Lightning head coach) had a fine playoff debut, pairing several offensive opportunities with a disciplined physical game.

And Martin St. Louis, despite needing a double-root canal after the game, thanks to some stickwork from Zbynek Michalek that went uncalled in the second period, showed his trademark inner warrior, in trying to lead the Lightning back. (Just thinking about enduring a non-specific dental injury – one that required endodontic therapy postgame, no less – would put some out of action for sure. Not Marty.)

About that play… Was it a turning point? Maybe. Should it have been a penalty? Sure. But let’s not go so far as to say it was the worst non-call anyone’s ever seen. (There was a little bit of that discussion throughout the online community last night.) And it certainly wasn’t the reason the Lightning fell in game one.

Instead, they can look at the collective failure to capitalize on chances, particularly in the first two periods, while they game was still deadlocked. Again, though, give Fleury credit where it’s due. He was fantastic. If he continues to stand on his head like that, the Bolts might just be doomed.

But they need not stray away from their game either. Rather, clean up a few areas and they should be okay. For starters, they have to stay out of the penalty box. Pittsburgh had six power plays to Tampa’s one. Regardless of whether or not all of their assessed infractions were deserved, they simply have to avoid a parade to the box of that magnitude. The Penguins didn’t score with the man advantage but six go-rounds shorthanded taxes a team nonetheless. The Lightning certainly suffered some of that last night.

And Steven Stamkos’ invisible act continued in his first postseason game, to the tune of a single shot on goal. He had at least one chance, if memory serves correctly, from the so-called “Stamkos Spot” but missed the target, hitting the side of the net. They have other guns, sure, but the Lightning have got to figure out a way to get their most lethal source of offense in that arsenal going.

Finally, this Bolts group can look to take advantage of having their first taste of the postseason out of the way. Remaining in enemy territory for another game tomorrow night might actually serve them well, knowing fully what to expect, in terms of both atmosphere and opposition.

Regarding the latter, as we saw in game one, the Penguins brought exactly what most thought they would and the Lightning can certainly expect more of the same.

One goal past Fleury could have made all the difference in game one. Starting from scratch in game two of the series, that same logic still applies.

***

Quickly turning the attention toward the Washington Capitals, who outlasted the eighth-seeded New York Rangers in overtime last night, we may be just one game deep into this year’s playoffs but there’s a lot falling in Washington’s favor already.

Efforts to make the case that the Caps could have used a push from the Lightning within the division during the regular season to elevate them to a necessary next level have proven accurate. Washington overcame that Bolts push to capture their fourth straight Southeast crown. An opponent like the Rangers, who many people give a legitimate shot at winning this quarterfinal series, might just serve a similar purpose now in the postseason.

The key to the series, by and large, has been tied to goaltending, with upstart Michael Neuvirth manning Washington’s nets across from mainstay Henrik Lundqvist for New York. If game one is any indicator, Neuvirth backstopping the Caps to a paper-thin, one-goal, overtime victory over Lundqvist and the Rangers is a great sign for Washington.

And Alex Semin, notoriously goal-less last year against Montreal in Washington’s round one loss, scoring the overtime winner – assisted by none other than trade deadline acquisition Jason Arnott, who did what many thought he might in taking on a leadership role immediately upon his arrival, addressing certain areas of concern by speaking up and fortifying the club’s confidence in turn – can’t be looked at as anything but another fortunate precursor to finally achieving some significant level of postseason success.

It is but one game for Washington as well, of course, but one won in such a fashion as to suggest that things just might be different this time around.

The Rangers are going to give the Caps a fight, no doubt, but it feels like this Washington bunch has a little more in the way of return fire than in years past.

That kind of counterattack is what teams rally around and, fight as they may, the Rangers could very well end up the first casualty of this strengthened Washington machine – perhaps much more quickly, even, than most seem to expect.

***

We’ll be checking back in with FromThePoint.com’s Brian Metzer for a look back at game one in the Bolts/Pens series from the Pittsburgh side of things in short order (and I’ll be doing the same for him once again over there).

Hopefully, you caught Brian on XM NHL Home Ice, TSN Radio or both before and during last night’s game. I’ll be checking in with both of those outlets as well, once the series heads to Tampa next week.

Look for the latest Metzer guest spot in the coming hour or so.

JJ
jj@kuklaskorner.com
JJ on Twitter

Filed in: New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
 

Comments

Evilpens's avatar

JJ what did you want Z called for Lowsticking? it was unfortunate but I don’t know what you call Kovy was Slashed & knocked down right before he scored that should have been called & Staal despite all the ranting I do about him he doesn’t go down & was twice tripped & nothing was called. Typical Reffing in the playoffs get used to it

Posted by Evilpens on 04/14/11 at 11:23 AM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

Agreed. Tough call. Probably a penalty but not easy to make that decision in the heat of the moment. The rest of us have replay - and, yes, Marty was falling.

I heard somewhere that McKenzie and Kerry Fraser were talking about it possibly qualifying as a slashing major. WTF?

I don’t complain about officiating, as a general rule, for the very reason you mentioned. It’s the playoffs and bad calls and non-calls happen. Best you can do is get over it and go win a hockey game. The Lightning can’t blame the refs for the loss, as I said.

Good stuff in game one, from a hockey fan’s perspective. Can’t wait for the follow-up.

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 04/14/11 at 11:36 AM ET

Russian Rocket's avatar

Good stuff in game one, from a hockey fan’s perspective. Can’t wait for the follow-up.

I expect to see a similar style in game two, as well as a few more PP chances for the Lightning…

Posted by Russian Rocket on 04/14/11 at 11:52 AM ET

Evilpens's avatar

I heard somewhere that McKenzie and Kerry Fraser were talking about it possibly qualifying as a slashing major. WTF?

Fraser is Retarded & if McKenzie got in on that too ... well I am disappointed in Bob he is better .... Much Better than that

Posted by Evilpens on 04/14/11 at 12:04 PM ET

Avatar

Letang & Orpik really abused Stamkos and especially St. Louis all game last night, that was a huge part too. Neal was a monster.


by Jon Jordan on 04/14/11 at 10:17 AM ET
Posted by Evilpens on 04/14/11 at 11:04 AM ET

Kerry Fraser said he would’ve given a five and a game for it. He’s made a lot of stupid comments on calls/non-calls on TSN2’s new show that he appears on.

This season McKenzie’s really been shilling for the NHL on various plays, in the way of the NHL’s position that the refs are infalible.

Posted by NathanBC on 04/14/11 at 01:04 PM ET

Avatar

Also Tampa Bay really earned those penalties they got, especially guys like Malone and Downie. They both made a few boneheaded plays that they got away with.

Posted by NathanBC on 04/14/11 at 01:05 PM ET

JMK's avatar

I don’t complain about officiating, as a general rule, for the very reason you mentioned. It’s the playoffs and bad calls and non-calls happen. Best you can do is get over it and go win a hockey game.

Well said!!

Posted by JMK on 04/14/11 at 01:08 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

NathanBC,

I just think it’s so easy for anyone - Fraser/McKenzie/whomever - to roast a call after the fact, largely thanks to the benefit of replay, which the officials do NOT have on penalty calls.

Fraser knows this better than anyone (or should).

Personally, I wasn’t surprised at all to see the Michalek/St. Louis incident not draw a penalty. It was an awkward play, simply stated. (Nor did I complain much about it.)


But, again, it’s playoff time and people are going to get emotional at times. Right or wrong, I’m sure we’ll see some fortuitous calls for Tampa Bay on the heels of a six PPs to one ratio from this one.

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 04/14/11 at 01:14 PM ET

Avatar

Fraser knows this better than anyone (or should).

Replays show that Fraser stared at a 4 minute Gretzky high stick in a game 7 and decided it wasn’t a penalty. He’s got no room to second-guess Wes McCauley on playoff high-stick non-calls, even if McCauley happens to be a bum.

Posted by steviesteve on 04/14/11 at 07:43 PM ET

Add a Comment

Please limit embedded image or media size to 575 pixels wide.

Add your own avatar by joining Kukla's Korner, or logging in and uploading one in your member control panel.

Captchas bug you? Join KK or log in and you won't have to bother.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.