by Jon Jordan on 04/21/11 at 03:50 PM ET
Game four’s double-overtime winner by Pittsburgh’s James Neal meant many things. One, the Penguins now lead the Lightning three games to one in the series. Two, unless the Bolts can manage to turn things around – and fast – Tampa Bay hockey fans won’t soon stop talking about that particular goal, right or wrong. And three, and perhaps most importantly, it’s time once again to check in with FromThePoint.com’s Brian Metzer for his take on the latest events in this series from his so very astute and insightful Pittsburgh-based point of view:
JJ: Well, Metz… We got the overtime(s) we predicted. It wasn’t really hard to see that coming. But, while each game, for the most part, has been as tightly-contested, score-wise, as we both thought coming in, I personally thought last night’s game was awfully one-sided for a double-overtime thriller. Specifically, I thought the Penguins controlled the play throughout and that the Lightning were only afforded the chance to win on the efforts of a few hard-headed individuals. Did you see the same dominance from the Pens that I did, despite them having to squeak out the win in the 83rd minute? And did last night’s game ever scare you, from a Pittsburgh perspective, in the sense that it had every bit the look of being one of those playoff games that “the wrong team” would win?
BM: I will start with part two of that one sir. There were plenty of moments late in that game when I was scared about the outcome. The first probably being when Bergenheim tied things up late in the third period. It was something hat we had seen a ton of times over the second half of the season – a group of Penguins who dominated, but weren’t able to get the back breaking goal. Once you let a team get up off of their heels and tie it, anything could have happened. I was also a bit concerned about the two power play opportunities – one in the third period and one in overtime – the Lightning had started to get some chances after the Penguins had sort of “slowed their roll” through their first two chances of the evening. I was definitely bracing for a “wrong team winning” situation. I also said out loud: “The longer this game goes on, the more important it becomes.”
As for the Penguins looking dominant… yes, I would agree with you there. They seemed to have the better hop throughout most of the evening and were relentless in all facets of their game. It was probably their best defensive performance in the series and aside from the two goals; they did a great job of stymieing the Lightning throughout. There were times when the Lightning couldn’t even enter the zone or retrieve pucks off the dump. It seemed as if they were constantly forced to retrieve pucks in their own end, reset and try to re-enter. That is a tribute to the work of the Pens top four… The Penguins forwards were also forechecking like crazy and I started to see a bit of shakiness in the Lightning D. Turnovers are starting to come in that area…
The Penguins finished the game with 98 attempted shots 53 of which hit the net. A staggering number that really speaks to the amount of time they spent in and around the Lightning zone in Game 4. If they play like that on Saturday at the CONSOL Energy Center, I think it curtains for the Bolts.
JJ: James Neal got the OT winner, earned first star honors and seemed ever-so relieved to score such a big goal for his second (regular season plus playoffs) as a Pen. You had singled him out on the podcast the other night as someone that the Pittsburgh area had been looking toward to step up his game in this series, so I had an extra keen eye on him last night and, honestly, wasn’t terribly impressed. Neal took two consecutive bad penalties at one point, with the Pens still up a goal and I quipped to a press box neighbor, “This kid’s trying to give the game back to Tampa!” Does his game-deciding tally, garbage as it was, provide him full reprieve in the eyes of the Pens faithful or does he still have, as I perceive he does, quite a ways to go before he can be counted on long-term?
BM: Well it is funny that you would ask if the Pittsburgh faithful have given him a reprieve because judging by my Twitter and Facebook feeds that is exactly what happened. I realize it was a huge goal for a guy who really needed a break like that, however it doesn’t take away the fact that he did take the penalties and looked very off at times during the game.
I am hoping that it will serve as a “monkey off of the back” occurrence and that he can get back to being the 25-plus goal scorer the Penguins hoped they were getting, but he has a long way to go before I am ready to give him the same reprieve.
Neal, who is listed as 6-2, 210, needs to start utilizing his body and getting to the net. I have never seen a big guy so reluctant to get to the paint. It is almost comical to hear most in Pittsburgh talk about him as a burgeoning power forward when he seems to be way more comfortable on the perimeter. He likes to create with slick stickhandling and unleash his wrist shot from the slot, but I just don’t see him being hugely successful until get starts getting his nose dirty in front.
One other note on Neal… I am over the fact that he will suddenly snap out of his funk when inserted alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. That just doesn’t work for me considering that I have seen him fan on a number of chances in front of the goal… would it really have mattered if Crosby had made that pass? He still had to receive it and get a shot off. It is also worth noting that there is no guarantee that he and Sid will work well together… 87 loves playing with Dupuis and Kunitz, it works for him. Ryan Malone, who is loosely similar to Neal in style, didn’t like playing with Crosby during his time in Pittsburgh. He felt that Crosby was a bit too intense and even joked about him yelling at him.
Now I realize that this makes it sound like I am supremely low on Neal… that isn’t the case. I just think he has a lot of learning to do. It took some hardcore work with both John LeClair and Gary Roberts before Malone added that scrappiness to his game. When they were through with him he wasn’t always looking for the handsy play, as he was just as happy to camp out in front and put one in off of his face, back, ass, shin etc. Neal has the pedigree, you don’t score at least 20-goals in three consecutive seasons if you don’t know what you are doing, he will be fine in the long run, but there is a good bit of work to be done for the 23-year-old.
JJ: Arron freakin’ Asham. What else can we say? The goal he scored last night wasn’t the prettiest - but he’s not a pretty player. Pretty is one thing, effective another. And Asham’s been the latter undoubtedly. We talked about him on the podcast the other night and mentioned him several other times throughout the series thus far, calling him, in a word, just the type of player you want going for you in the playoffs. I know you’re going to hit me with a great quote from Asham in response here but, aside from that, what is it about his game that is so perfectly suited to the postseason and isn’t just what Asham brings a lot of what Tampa Bay is missing right now? In fairness, Ryan Malone’s banged up and he plays a similar game but guys like Adam Hall, Dominic Moore and others, guys that I thought would be huge for the Bolts in the playoffs, have kind of gone by the wayside a bit, in my opinion.
BM: You certainly nailed it with the quote call there JJ… I’ll start by letting him tell you why he is so effective in the post season.
“I just want to win the Cup so bad that I just elevate my game.” – Asham following Game 3 in Tampa Bay.
We all know that the Cup is huge motivation; however that can’t be the only reason he is effective, especially when you consider that each and every guy taking the ice in these playoffs has that as a goal. Asham is successful because he is no nonsense. He doesn’t care if he has to give up his body to make a play. He doesn’t care if he has to lay a big hit, block a shot, use his face to deflect a puck… he is willing to do it.
He is a true blue collar guy who is willing to do the work. What he may lack in high end skill he makes up for with heart and work ethic. Though he brought a great level of compete throughout the season when given the opportunity, he is one of those special NHL players that just seems to have another level in the post season. Guys like Asham are key to Championships and you nailed it… he is exactly what you are missing on the Lightning right now.
As you said, we can’t beat up Ryan Malone too much because he is clearly not healthy, but the other guys? I hope that they aren’t feeling super secure, as I can’t see a warrior like Steve Yzerman being ok with their el foldo to this point in the series. Great regular seasons for Moore, Hall etc don’t mean a heck of a lot at this time of year… that teeters on the edge of a Caps like performance… (ZINGER had to buuuurn there! Lol)
Ray Shero brought Asham in for specifically this reason… post season compete level!
Sit tight for the latest installment of my answers to a series of Metz’s questions on game four, which will hit soon!
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