Senin, 18 April 2011

First goal is uplifting

Saturday, April 16, 2011
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

Tampa Bay forward Nate Thompson scores against Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the first period of Friday's game at Consol Energy Center.

Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said it Wednesday night after Game 1. So did winger Alex Kovalev. The Penguins didn't beat the Tampa Bay Lightning by scoring three third-period goals as much as they won by standing up to and staring down the Lightning's all-out blitz in the first period.

You might guess what they were saying Friday night after Tampa Bay won Game 2, 5-1.

After the Lightning scored its first goal just 2:02 into the game

After it took an insurmountable 2-0 lead at 6:53 of the first.

After it turned the game into a rout by taking a 3-0 lead at 17:02 of the opening period.

"Why did we even bother playing the second and third periods?"

OK, so maybe none of the Penguins actually put it in quite those words. But if one had, no clear thinker would have argued. This game was over the second Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier swatted a sweet pass from teammate Simon Gagne by goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for a power-play goal and that 2-0 lead. I swear in the name of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins could have played all night and not scored enough to come back.

In any playoff hockey game, it's important to get the first goal. But it's especially critical in this series for a couple of reasons.

"They're tough to play against when they have the lead," Kovalev said of the Lightning.

That's one reason.

Tampa Bay likes to get on top and then sit back in its 1-3-1 defense and make it nearly impossible for opponents to get through traffic to get to goaltender Dwayne Roloson. It doesn't care if it generates offense at that point. It scored on its first, third and eighth shots Friday night against Fleury -- after failing to beat him with any of its 32 shots in Game 1 -- then had only 13 shots in the final two periods. Pretty smart strategy, don't you agree? The Lightning was 21-2-6 when leading after one period this season and 34-2-3 when ahead after two.

"I said it on the bench, 'That might work for 'em, but [that style] has to be boring to play and it's boring to watch,' " Orpik said. "They've got some great players over there. But it does work for 'em. They can really frustrate you."

And the second reason?

That would be Crosby and Malkin or, to be more accurate, no Crosby and no Malkin. Without their injured stars, the Penguins aren't built to climb out of even a two-goal hole.

It might be different if the Penguins had an efficient power play. Of course, they don't. It went 0 for 7 Friday night after going 0 for 6 Wednesday. It's a crying shame hockey rules aren't the same as football rules. The Penguins would be better off if they could decline all penalties on the opposition.


You think I'm kidding?

The Lightning tried to let the Penguins back in the game with a bit of undisciplined play. Winger Ryan Malone took a penalty eight seconds into the second period when he grabbed the puck in his glove. The Penguins' power play managed just one shot. Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina took a high-sticking penalty at 3:56 of the second. Again, the Penguins' power play produced one shot. Even worse, Tampa Bay's Nate Thompson and Dana Tyrell had excellent scoring chances short-handed after a bad giveaway by Penguins defenseman Paul Martin, who had a pretty rotten game.

"Breakout-wise, entry-wise, when we have control of the puck in their zone ... we have to be much better if we think we're going to have a chance at success," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

The Lightning power play is not nearly so putrid. It got two goals in six chances, the second coming with 14 seconds left in the second when winger Marty St. Louis threw a shot toward Fleury from a bad angle and got lucky when the puck deflected off a diving Martin's stick and snuck past Fleury for a 4-1 lead. Did I mention the Penguins could have played all night and not scored enough? They were 0-19-1 this season when trailing after two periods.

Talk about your double whammy -- an early deficit plus a lack of scoring power equals a lopsided defeat.

But, as they were quick to point out in the Penguins' locker room, it was just one defeat in what surely is going to be a long series.

"Being down 0-1 isn't a good place to be," Penguins winger Mike Rupp said. "There's a lot of pressure on that team in any series because you don't want to go down, 0-2. Give them credit. They responded.

"Now, we're tied, 1-1. Now, we have to go to Tampa and win a game. I'm pretty confident we'll be able to do that."

If the Penguins score first, sure.

And if they find a functional power play Monday night before Game 3, absolutely.

If they do those two things, I'll be confident they'll win, too.

Ron Cook:

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