Pens vs Bolts; Game one was no fluke.
In a series where many believed the Penguins must keep up with the Lightning offensively, the pens decided to continue with their MO and play a tight checking defense. When the Lightning took the ice last night they had a clear advantage at forward. With three superstars on their roster and Pittsburgh missing its two superstars, the Lightning had all the offense Pittsburgh had lacked. Even at that, most people knew it was going to be a tight series and game one was just that.
Early in the first the Lightning came out screaming. They torched Marc-Andre Fleury with shot after shot having an 8 to 1 shot advantage at one point in the first. Pittsburgh came in strong, but with a lack of shots they addressed their play in a very different way. The Penguins came out hitting and they were big hits. Steven Stamkos can attest to that in his first shift when he came streaking into the Penguins end and Brooks Orpik crushed him. Putting his body parallel to the ice and roughly a foot or two above it, Stamkos was welcomed into the playoffs with an absolute bang. As the Penguins picked up their shots later in the period, the Lightning picked up the hitting. The period would end at a zero to zero tie, with no lack of excitement.
The second period started to look slightly different from the first as the Penguins would dictate the shots on net, while the Lightning carried the physical play. After a few undisciplined penalties by the Lightning, Pittsburgh had some great chances to pot in the first goal. However the terrible powerplay of Pittsburgh continued even though they generated 6 shots on one powerplay. Most of this can be credited to Dwayne Roloson who was fantastic in net for the first two periods. The highlight of the second period was a super slick move by the Lightning’ forward Vinny Lecavalier who slipped the puck between his legs and shot the puck on net. The better part was the save from the blocker arm of Marc-Andre Fleury who stunned the crowd with a fantastic display of great goaltending. The second period would end again at 0-0, but just like the first it was not short on action or suspense.
The third period has not been the Lightnings best all season and it once again came to haunt them. Pittsburgh started the period dominating on shots and just kept pushing the lightning back into their own end. Finally, after over 45 minutes of play the Penguins scored. Alex Kovalev was tripped up next to the net, when Kubina left his stick stuck between AK’s legs. Without a stick, Kubina gloved the puck up ice only to have a pinching defensemen pop the puck back to James Neal. Neal put a slap pass right on tape to Kovalev who buried the first goal behind Roloson. Then, just 18 seconds later, Arron Asham took the puck from the opposite blue line and charged the Lightning end. Faking a slapshot and cutting to the right, Roloson over pursued the puck carrying Asham, who would turn and shoot the puck into a gaping net despite missing the initial wrap around chance. With the Penguins up two to zero, the Lighting tried hard to keep themselves into the game. With plenty of chances for the Lightning, Marc-Andre Fleury shut the door and continued his fantastic play. With under a minute remaining in the game, Chris Kunitz of the Penguins notched the empty netter and game one of the series. Fleury would finish with a shutout victory and the unanimous first star.
Keys to the game – The Penguins had done something they hadn’t done in a while in this game. The Penguins won the faceoff battle at 32 to 28. With the power of the Lightning it is crucial that the Penguins continue to win faceoffs and force the play from the get go.
Missed calls and inopportune breaks – At one point in the third period Marty St.Louis was hit with a low stick in the face. It has been reported that he has gone through two root canals and will be back to play tomorrow in game two. The call could have been called and probably should have, but the question remains, is it a high stick when a player is lying on the ice? I am unsure of the rule in this situation, but none the less, it was not called and the Lightning would have hoped to have the game changer in that powerplay.
Stars of the game – Marc-Andre Fleury was the first star of the game with his shutout victory. He played one of his best playoff games last night and if this can continue, the pens will have a very good chance at moving on to the next round. The second star was Alex Kovalev for his game winning goal and overall consistent play in this game. The third star went to Jordan Staal who received one assist, but really made his impact by physically pushing around the Tampa Bay forwards.
Unsung Stars – There were two unsung heroes of this game in my opinion. First goes to James Neal, who had one assist and physically ran down the lightning. He was extremely good on the backcheck and forecheck, while hitting and getting shots on net. Second goes to Zbenyck Michalek who was given the task of taking all opposing forwards and shutting them down. He was blocking shots and had excellent stick work that caused a lot of problems for the Lightning.
In a series that will be dominated by goaltenders and the big matchup of the Lightning offense vs. the Penguins defense, last night proved that a tight checking game can provide regulation wins for the Penguins. If Pittsburgh can play as tight every game like they did last night I don't see Tampa taking this series, however it is a long series and I do not expect Tampa to turtle away and let this series slip between their fingers. The Penguins play of the second have of the season was exactly this game and it should really be no suprise to any that the Penguins could have pulled off a game such as this. Game two is tomorrow at 7:00 pm and it is sure to be another fantastic game.