By MARTIN FENNELLY
The Tampa Tribune
April 19, 2011
TAMPA - So now it's a hole, again.
Now it's Must Win.
The coaster ride takes a second dip, a numbing 3-2 loss.
The Lightning played catch up all night and it caught up.
Management gave away 15,000 rally drums in the sold-out Forum on Monday night, the franchise's first home playoff game in years. The hockey team then quickly gave away two bad goals to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 45 seconds.
The Lightning lost too many battles, but did catch up, most notably because the smallest man on the ice, Marty St. Louis, came up big with two goals, the last to tie it early in the third period.
Pittsburgh scored again — just like that.
Off a lost Lightning draw — after an icing call — 31 seconds later.
What a waste.
"I mean … it seemed we took the momentum from them and they got it right back," Vinny Lecavalier said.
And so this turnaround season has to turn around again.
"Oh, it's a coaster," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.
You can only play that game so many times in the playoffs.
The Lightning came out with energy and emotion, too much, in fact, and the wrong kind.
Veteran Bolts defenseman Mattias Ohlund began the festivities by flattening Pittsburgh's Arron Asham. And the frenzy was on. But where was the discipline, the control?
Lightning winger Steve Downie, summoning that dark rage, traveled from what seemed like Clearwater to launch himself into Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy behind the Pittsburgh net, earning a well-deserved penalty, and probably a well-deserved suspension, though he should have company, given piggy Penguin Chris Kunitz's thug elbow to Simon Gagne minutes later. That one's for you, Matty Cooke!
Thing is, Downie never served time in the box, as the Penguins came down and scored on a long Max Talbot wrister that Dwayne Roloson, so strong in this series, really should have stopped.
The second goal was worse. It was 21-year-old Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who'd been solid in Games 1 and 2, fanning on a check along the boards in center ice on Pittsburgh's Mike Rupp, then not getting the puck, then not getting back on defense.
Hedman helped nudge Sidney Crosby out of the season — and he can't give Mike Rupp a little love?
Rupp skated in 2-on-1 and slid the puck under Pavel Kubina, who can't commit like that and not come up with the puck. Kuby had a bad moment in Game 1, too. This time around, Asham banged it home and it was 2-0 just 6:31 in.
By the way, Asham, who scored just five goals this season, has two this postseason. Steven Stamkos still has none after another Will-He-Ever-Score-Again? moment, robbed on a tip-in by Marc-Andre Fleury in the first. He did have an assist, but you get the point.
Crosby and Malkin are out, right?
Don't the Lightning have more firepower?
Don't they have more finishers?
Yes, they have four power-play goals in three games against the league's top-ranked penalty kill. And, yes, St. Louis, motoring down low on the man advantage, brought his team back to life.
But the margin for error is so thin against this playoff-tested Pittsburgh crew, one that knows how to win without its shooting stars, knows how to not blow a lead twice.
Games like this can come down to small moments, like the icing call against the Bolts shortly after the tying St. Louis goal. More to the point, the lost faceoff that followed, Dominic Moore dropping it to Jordan Staal, then not following his man, Tyler Kennedy.
A shot from the point from Brooks Orpik, a bramble of legs in front, no Bolt able to clear, and it's on Kennedy's stick and it's behind Roloson.
And now it's Must Win.
It should be noted that there were still just slightly less than 17 minutes left after that goal, but the Bolts had no answer. Fleury made some big saves, but mostly the Penguins locked it down, leaving the Lightning on the outside looking in, wondering about wasted energy, and mistakes, and missed chances, and lost moments.
Now it's Must Win.
Or this coaster is going to be a short ride.