Thursday, April 14, 2011
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Through its first two taut periods, this richly anticipated Penguins-Lightning series was everything anyone could imagine it could be -- and less, an inevitable assessment anytime you get 60 minutes that are 100 percent goal free.
Tampa Bay goaltender Dwayne Roloson, born during the '60s for pity's sake, was matching Marc-Andre Fleury save-for-desperate-save and then some, at one point turning away six Penguins shots in 89 seconds of a second-period power play that they cooked up just the way they like 'em, again, 100 percent goal free.
In that sequence, on which Roloson stopped blasts from Jordan Staal and Kris Letang, and Staal's nasty wrister, he looked more like 24 than a man closing in on 42, but that power play and the 18-shot period that it fueled hastened the turn of the screw.
The Lightning came into this Eastern Conference quarterfinal with all kinds of decorations for its uber capable offense, but it also dragged in a dirty little statistical secret. After the second period, Tampa Bay had been outscored, 93-72, this winter. That didn't make anything inevitable, but, when Roloson stopped Mark Letestu's shot from between the circles with 14:05 left in the third period, his recovery capabilities almost instantly seemed to flag.
"No, not at all," Roloson protested in a quiet Lightning locker room. "Every guy in this locker room is capable of bouncing back from that. It's an aerobic sport; you just get a little rest and you get right back out there."
Ten seconds later, Game 1 was no longer scoreless, and all its aerobics were turning anaerobic as the oxygen started leaking away in Tampa Bay's end.
James Neal's hard pass from the left point all the way to the doorstep to Roloson's left found the stick of Alex Kovalev, and Kovalev knew what to do with it.
It was 1-0 at 6:05 of the third, 2-0 just 18 seconds later when Arron Asham took Roloson on an unscheduled trip around the goal cage, banged his wraparound attempt off the pipe and still had enough to time to tap home the rebound before Roloson finally retraced his steps into the goalmouth.
"I guess that's what it looked like," Roloson said. "I haven't seen the tape."
The Lightning actually put a pretty decent game on tape Wednesday night, notwithstanding the final 20 minutes when the Penguins pumped in three goals, the last Chris Kunitz's empty-netter.
Had they not spent so much time incarcerated, Guy Boucher's team might have had a good chance to swipe the first Game 1 road win in franchise history.
"Power plays were six to one, that killed us," said Tampa Bay's first-year coach. "The opportunities were there for us, for sure, but [Fleury's] an incredible goaltender, and we knew that coming in. We also expect our goaltender to be good, and after two periods we were at 0-0."
All analysis of this matchup pivots on these goaltenders, and though Fleury put on a clinic in stretching his postseason record to 39-24, the Roloson story is an honored NHL narrative -- the aging goaltender taking a new team deep into playoffs.
John Vanbiesbrouck leaps to mind, backstopping the Florida Panthers into the Stanley Cup final 15 years ago that seems like 50. Roloson took Edmonton there only five years ago, and there's a huge possibility we wouldn't even be talking about the Lightning if general manager Steve Yzerman hadn't pried him from the New York Islanders for Ty Wishart back on New Year's Day.
Roloson had a couple of things working against him from the moment the puck dropped, not the least of which is that the Lightning was heavily populated with first-time visitors to the postseason.
"A lot of guys were feeling the excitement," said first-timer Steven Stamkos, who mostly felt the thunderous shoulder of defenseman Brooks Orpik, who laid the lumber to Tampa Bay's gifted young centerman before the series was 90 seconds old. "But it's a seven-game series, and I think we reacted fine."
There shouldn't be any underestimating the challenge of facing these Penguins, especially for a team that has been absent from the postseason the past three years. No team has won more playoff games since the start of the 2008 playoffs than the Penguins, who have now won 38 of 'em.
Still, no one's confidence took much of a beating, especially Roloson's. This was all a matter of power-play inequity in his view.
"Anytime you're killing penalties, it takes away your momentum," he said. "You can't put pressure on them in the other end when you're always killing penalties. We've just got to focus on the things we can control."
They can stay out of the penalty box, but they can't make Roloson 24 again.
Gene Collier: email@example.com.
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11104/1139323-61.stm#ixzz1JUrGiDu6