by Jon Jordan on 04/14/11 at 11:17 AM ET
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.
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