by Jon Jordan on 04/26/11 at 11:06 PM ET
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?
We had a shutout in game one, a convincing road win in game two, a tight one in game three, a double-OT thriller in game four, a blowout in game five and, tonight, the Lightning shaking off the early Pens goal and the late equalizer to secure the 4-2 win and force the series-decider coming up. In a nutshell, we’ve had it all. The big question, then, becomes do the Penguins have it in them to thwart the momentum that Tampa undoubtedly has after staving off elimination twice in a row (by a combined score of 12-4, no less!) Another point that should be (re)made: the Bolts have already won in Pittsburgh twice! To the layman, everything’s leaning Tampa Bay’s way, no?
BM: Well, in a word… yes! The Lightning have all the momentum at this point and have to be feeling pretty confident heading into game seven. As you said, they have staved off elimination in very convincing fashion on two occasions now and have been great against the Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center.
We have definitely seen it all in the series and I am thinking that tomorrow evening will end being a tightly checked, low scoring affair. Maybe 2-1 or 3-2, heck, we may even see another overtime game before it is all said and done. Though the past two scores don’t tell the tale, these two teams have played each other pretty evenly when you take a look at the statistics.
Tampa Bay has the luxury of coming into the game with nothing to lose. I mean fighting back from being down 3-1 to force a game seven is pretty impressive in itself and would be a great building block for next season. If they win the game – even better – and no matter what, they got a huge dose of learning into the young guys, making them that much more dangerous moving forward.
JJ: We talked earlier in the series about the effectiveness of the Adams-Rupp-Asham line for Pittsburgh and the value of role players such as those three in the playoffs. Tonight, the Lightning got goals from Teddy Purcell and Sean Bergenheim and multi-point efforts from Steve Downie (who may have had his best game as a professional in this one) and former Pen Ryan Malone, who put the icing on the cake with Tampa Bay’s fourth goal. Pair that kind of offensive production from an array of depth guys with the fact that Steven Stamkos potted a pair in game five amid the eight-goal explosion and the entire team has to have confidence against Marc-Andre Fleury heading into Wednesday night.
How do the Penguins contain the surging Bolts and who has to step up in game seven to make that happen?
BM: I have to say that it is as if Guy Boucher and the Lightning have been reading our exchanges, as they have fixed most of what we took them to task for earlier in the series. They are getting scoring from up and down the line-up, playing great against the lines that were torturing them and getting contributions from everyone on the roster. Though I am pulling for the Birds, it has been very fun watching the Bolts blossom.
The first thing that the Penguins are going to have to do is find a way to score some goals. I realize that they got two in the game but scoring has been their bugaboo since Crosby and Malkin went out of the line-up. They weren’t getting it from their top guys and the role players were finding ways to get it done. Holding the third and fourth lines in check has taken a ton of punch out of the line-up. Next up, they need to get back to playing the kind of defense that got them here. The Birds have looked very leaky. Though Fleury is allowing the goals, it is his defense that has betrayed him on more than one occasion. A prime example is the Downie goal last night. Sure, it wasn’t a great one for Fleury to allow, especially moments after his team tied the game, but how does Downie get time, space and the chance alone in front? The defense lost him. Fleury will also have to be at the very top of his game, as the Lightning are smelling blood.
I am not sure if the overtime game wore this group out but they haven’t looked the same since and it could be attributed to the fact that Brooks Orpik played 40-plus minutes, Zbynek Michalek played over 37 and Kris Letang/Paul Martin were also in the 30s.
The group, as a whole, has played above its head for far too long. They just might be hitting a wall.
Though I got a bit long-winded there, the Pens top defensive pairs are going to have to be the difference makers. No one-on-one chances, clearing rebounds, boxing out and keeping the Lightning to the perimeter.
[JJ Note: Heading into question three, I have several things on my mind… We agreed to limit our Q&As to three questions at a time so feel free, Metz, to interject thoughts of a dramatic return for Sidney Crosby in game seven, a pro wrestling-style run-in by a returning Geno Malkin as well, Chris Conner’s penalty shot guffaw and the anemic Pittsburgh power play right here after this admittedly forced editorial blurb…]
Metz Rebuttal to JJ Note: Funny that you should mention Geno Malkin running in WWE-style, as he is indeed rumored to be much closer than we all anticipated. That doesn’t mean that there is a chance of seeing him tomorrow evening but, if this team finds a way to advance to the Conference Final, he could feasibly give it a go. His agent recently was quoted as saying, “Hopefully the Penguins continue to win,” when asked about the possibility of a return earlier in the week.
Crosby, well, he has been taxidermied, mounted and is hanging on a wall in Ray Shero’s office.
WHAT THE HELL happened to Chris Conner during his penalty shot last night? I have to chalk it up to nothing more than the hockey gods getting revenge for the tire that Stamkos blew on CONSOL ice earlier in the season… Silver lining: Conner didn’t go down.
Steve Downie did have a heck of a game; however he has made me hate him during this series. That is the fun of playoff hockey – when a guy who you really have no feeling for one way or another gets under your skin to such an extent, and I am just watching at home – well, he is doing one heck of a job!
JJ: It’s come down to this, amigo. Mano y mano (which, it should be pointed out, should actually be “Mano a mano”...), rebel vs. rebel, me vs. you - well, not so much that, maybe, but certainly——————> Lightning/Penguins, game seven for the next step toward the Cup OR the next step toward the golf course.
We made our predictions before the series (and mine was awfully unpopular, remember, among the locals) and there’s no getting away from the inevitable question that remains for you (as I’m sure it does me also, coming from your direction shortly): Update your prediction, B-Metz… What happens in game seven? Who’s the hero? Who’s the goat? And, most importantly, who… wins… the series?!?!?!?
BM: Before saying anything else, it is worth noting that most of the so called “hockey experts” around the globe called this a seven game series. So it really shouldn’t be a surprise to see that we are heading into exactly that, game seven. Now, in watching this entire series, though each team had moments of dominance, it is worth noting that it has largely been a toss-up. It is actually pretty interesting to see all the negativity around town following the past two losses.
Let’s remember the odds that this team has overcome, I mean no one really gave them a chance to do anything without the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, not to mention the cavalcade of other injuries that they were forced to contend with. The funny thing is that most of the angry folks in Pittsburgh would have leaped at the chance to have a game seven on home ice, for all of the marbles, back in January.
I have to admit that for most of the day I have been feeling like it was over for the Penguins but then I got my head on straight and started to look at the facts. First off, the Penguins built a 3-1 series lead by winning two fiercely contested road games. Sure they could have won by more than a goal in each, but the fact is that they didn’t, Tampa Bay was right there knocking on the door of victory late in each game. It’s been the story of the series. I will say that I am still sticking with the Birds to win tomorrow night. Why waver now? Especially when you consider that (to quote a tweet from the great Rob Rossi) “They’ve not lost a game that they’ve had to win.”
I really think that they will put together the game plan I mentioned above: Good goaltending, sound defense and timely depth scoring to pull this one out. That isn’t to say that the Lightning are going to make it easy on them and I wouldn’t be shocked if they manage to take a third game in Pittsburgh tomorrow evening.
Overall, no matter what happens, the sad part is that one of us is heading home for the year. Boo on that my friend!
Indeed, to Metz’s last point there. Indeed.
Nonetheless, from the simple perspective of a hockey fan, the puck can’t drop soon enough for the final act in what has been an excellent, back-and-forth series to this point.
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