by Tony on 04/11/11 at 11:30 AM ET
Relatively speaking, getting the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs isn’t a bad draw.
Let’s face it, other than Buffalo, the Penguins’ would have had a tougher matchup vs. some of the other options in the first round, such as their 1-2-1 record vs. Montreal, 2-3-1 vs. the Rangers.
So sure, in that point of view, the Penguins will take the Lighting matchup in Round #1.
But while it might be a “better” matchup for the Pens, that doesn’t mean this will be an easy series.
The Lightning, since the duo of Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis came on the scene, have always presented a tough challenge for the Penguins. Their combination of speed and skill have created headaches for their opponents for several years now. Adding Steven Stamkos to the mix has made them even more dangerous. Since the Penguins started their run of five straight playoff appearances in the ‘06-‘07 season, their record during that time vs. Tampa has been an average 10-8-2. Not bad, certainly, but not dominating either.
As Penguins’ fans have gotten used to by now, scoring goals will be at a premium, especially now in the playoffs. That makes the performance of the Penguins’ defense and goaltending that much more crucial. On the surface, I give Marc-Andre Fleury the edge over Dwayne Roloson. Since stumbling out of the game, Fleury has been nothing short of spectacular. If MAF continues his strong play, he gives the Pens a very good chance to advance. Defensively, obviously, a strong performance by Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang against Tampa’s top line will be huge.
In addition, another big key to a series will be the Penguins’ tenacity and physical play. Easier said than done, I acknowledge, but the Penguins need to take the body against Tampa’s Big Three, and often. Not so much that they’re constantly heading to the penalty box, mind you. But the Penguins need to check Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stamkos at every opportunity. As they’ve done all year, the Pens need to be tenacious on the forecheck, and not allow the easy entry into their defensive zone.
But the biggest key to this series will be special teams. In particular, Tampa’s 6th rated powerplay vs. the Penguins’ #1 penalty kill. Let’s also not forget, with the Penguins’ powerplay already lousy, the Lightning also have the #8 rated PK. But with the Penguins’ offensive troubles, a successful Lightning powerplay will be very bad news for the Penguins.
Will we see Sidney Crosby in this series? Doubtful. I don’t believe we’ll see Crosby until he gets at least a few full-contact practices in. If anything, maybe if he gets those practices in and the series goes to a Game Six and/or Seven. And even that is a stretch, in my view.
So in summary, IMO, this series could go a variety of ways. Closely, hard-fought games. It should come down to who executes the best in those close games who will come out on top. Who knows, the series could end in five games, won by either team. Or, just as well, it could go the limit. Just depends on how the puck bounces.
My prediction? Geez, if I must. Gimme the Penguins in 7.
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Welcome to The Confluence, a Pittsburgh Penguins blog since 2006.
Originally at Blogspot, then at MVN, TheConfluence has over 1500 articles reporting Penguins news as well as jumping on my soapbox to opine constructive Penguins criticism.
I am blogger- credentialed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. My posts are regularly linked by hockey websites such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Yahoo!‘s Puck Daddy, and I’ve done numerous guest blogger spots on such websites asthe New YorkTimes. I am a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer.
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