by Jon Jordan on 04/19/11 at 11:15 AM ET
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).
2 – The playoff legend of Ryan Malone continues to grow. It was clear that the first period collision with James Neal left the Lightning forward significantly uncomfortable, to say the least. Malone recognized immediately that something wasn’t right and headed straight down the Lightning tunnel to get checked out. He eventually returned, right away engaging with Neal in an exchange of words but nothing more, had a couple of good scoring chances and was part of a major pileup in front of the Pittsburgh net later on the game.
If you’re concerned about Malone long-term, there’s some legitimate reason for your worry. After all, he did miss almost two months with an abdominal injury late in the regular season. But last night’s damage was deemed of the upper-body variety so it doesn’t appear to be a recurrence of that.
I have my guesses, judging by how gingerly his initial effort to pick up the stick he dropped on the play was, but we can play the coy playoff game too.
Besides, “He’s fine,” said head coach Guy Boucher after the game. (Gotta love playoff time, right?)
Remember, this is the same Malone who twice broke his nose in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, while playing for Pittsburgh. It would take something major to keep him out of the Lightning lineup for any length of time at this time of the year.
Not that it isn’t something worth monitoring, mind you.
But there shouldn’t be any question about Malone’s “compete level”.
3 – Speaking of “compete level”, that was the exact catch phrase uttered by Steven Stamkos, reflecting on what about his game needed to get better after game one of this series. Perhaps as a teaching tool, if not simply an outright attempt to spark the young Lightning superstar, Boucher jostled him from line to line in game two, with mixed results. He stayed off the scoresheet again and out of the line of questioning, for the most part, thanks to Tampa Bay’s 5-1 decision.
But last night, Stamkos was better and, at this point, in the middle of such a lengthy dry spell, baby steps are positive, small as they may be.
He earned his first career playoff point, an assist, on Martin St. Louis’ first power play goal, managed three shots on goal (including a point-blank redirect opportunity denied by Marc-Andre Fleury in the first) and even saved a goal at one point, getting his skate on a puck in the crease in front of a down-and-out Dwayne Roloson.
While the masses won’t be satisfied until Stamkos starts scoring at a Stamkos-like clip again, there are signs that his game is coming around. (At some level, many of you are right, he needs to score. But this is his first playoff test and at least he’s battling.)
The learning process is invaluable.
4 – Simon Gagne was flying last night. There are certain players who, for whatever reason, only find that “next” level in certain situations. Gagne, with a knack for clutch performances, particularly in the playoffs, is of that ilk. He hasn’t found the twine himself yet in the series but his four assists give him a share of Tampa Bay’s point-scoring lead in the early-going and, more importantly, you can see his game being elevated consistently and the reasons for his measure of value only being a true assessment now, with so much on the line here in the postseason.
5 – Vincent Lecavalier was quite good again for Tampa Bay and his between-the-legs deflection that resulted in a rebound off of Fleury and St. Louis’ 2nd goal of the night was a thing of beauty.
Say what you will of Lecavalier in recent seasons – and I’ve been as critical as any other at times – his play since January has been outstanding. In the first three games of this series, he’s continued to be a difference-maker – something the Lightning will undoubtedly need to continue to get past the Penguins.
Up next, thoughts on the Downie and Kunitz hits and, later, more from Metzer from the Pittsburgh side of things…
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