by Jon Jordan on 04/19/11 at 11:23 AM ET
It was an emotional night in what is becoming an increasingly emotional series.
Perhaps, in hindsight for the Tampa Bay Lightning, it was a bit too emotional from the get-go.
In front of a frenzied St. Pete Times Forum crowd, witnessing its first home playoff action in four years, the Bolts came out flying and a physical tone was set immediately, with several rattling collisions in the opening minutes. Unfortunately for the Lightning, one such run-in, between Ryan Malone and Pittsburgh’s James Neal, hobbled the Tampa Bay forward, who missed most of the first period but battled through later in the game. Another, involving Steve Downie and Penguin defenseman Ben Lovejoy, could end up costing Downie some time in the Lightning lineup by way of a suspension, as he appeared to leave his feet in delivering the hit.
But Lovejoy was able to get the puck out of the zone before being toppled by Downie and that exit pass set up Maxime Talbot’s opening tally to put the Pens ahead.
Soon after, an aggressive attempt by Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman to take out attacking Pittsburgh forward Mike Rupp at the blueline came up empty. Rupp side-stepped Hedman, entered the Lightning zone and connected with Arron Asham for the game’s second goal.
And while a time out called by head coach Guy Boucher brought the fevered Lightning back to Earth enough to stage a comeback, to the tune of a pair of Martin St. Louis power play goals, that hard work went for naught, with Tyler Kennedy’s game-winner coming just 21 seconds after the St. Louis equalizer early in the third.
In a series that most had pegged to be as tight as possible, tempering emotions may prove to be the ultimate deciding factor. If the Lightning can’t figure out how to do that as a group in real short order here, against the playoff-tested Penguins, they’ll be cooked.
“You can’t let your excitement get you away from the game plan,” said St. Louis. “You gotta channel energy, stay within your structure and be patient. That’s how you win games.”
Granted, you can’t get on them too much for trying to make things happen and, in the first period, Pittsburgh took advantage of the Lightning doing just that, but failing to execute.
Hedman’s gaffe was a perfect example. With Rupp and Asham entering the Lightning zone and Hedman and fellow d-man Pavel Kubina retreating, the second-year Tampa Bay defenseman sprung toward Rupp to try and take him out of the play. When he missed, Rupp was in free and clear, having only to avoid a desperate sliding attempt from Kubina to get the pass to Asham, who connected for his second of the series.
Boucher recognized postgame, regarding this play in particular but really a point that could be made for several instances from game three, that it isn’t a matter of getting upset at the mistake. Instead, correct it and move on.
“It’s a question of getting it right.”
“It’s a young man’s mistake,” he added. “But it could be an older guy making the same mistake. He gets beat one-on-one and it creates a scoring opportunity out of nothing.”
Offered Hedman, “You just take the rush instead of trying to make the big hit.”
“It’s a small thing that I need to correct but that’s how we need to play.”
In a tightly-contested series, the small things are going to end up making the difference. They did last night and they will again, before all is said and done.
“It comes down to the smallest detail,” Boucher said, “And whether it’s today or the next game, that’s what it’s going to be about.”
More shortly from the Pittsburgh side of things, with FromThePoint.com’s Brian Metzer and several other topics to get to throughout the day.
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