Minggu, 24 April 2011

Lightning sticks this one in the ol' Easter bonnet

Sunday, April 24, 2011
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette
Lightning forward Steven Stamkos, No. 91, celebrates a second period goal with teammates Eric Brewer, No. 2, Martin St. Louis, No. 26 and Vincent Lecavalier during Saturday's game at Consol Energy Center

And there you have it -- the big rabbit, but what did you expect for Easter?

Game 5 of this thickening Eastern Conference quarterfinal turned out to be just what Tampa Bay Lightning boss Guy Boucher ordered, a giant bunny of an 8-2 victory right in front of 18,535 stunned eyewitnesses.

Holy weekend.

Lest you missed it, Boucher's preamble had gone something like this:

"Since he's been with us, he's certainly given us confidence that any game he can pull a few rabbits out of his hat," Boucher said in reference to 40-something goaltender Dwayne Roloson. "Obviously [in Game 5], we're hoping the rabbit's going to be big."

Roloson's terrifying Day of the Lepus performance came on the heels of his stopping 50 of 53 shots in a double-overtime loss Wednesday in Tampa, and, when he stopped the first 22 he saw from the Penguins Saturday, it not only pulled Game 5 out of his hat, it pulled the Lightning back into a series that continues Monday night in Florida.

"We haven't solved anything," cautioned Lightning main bolt Martin St. Louis. "You have to play every minute, every shift. There's no figuring this game out sometimes. We got a lot of help offensively in this game. Our guys contributed."

This is how you chop the Penguins' 3-games-to-1 advantage in half, it turns out:

You get five goals in 10 minutes, three seconds after getting only four in the previous 162:38. You have Steven Stamkos get two goals in four minutes, 12 seconds after having scored only five goals in the previous 58 days.

"It's funny this time of year; I was watching the game between Chicago and Vancouver the other night and that was going similar to this," said Lightning forward Simon Gagne, who buried two rebounds to help erect a 5-0 Tampa Bay lead by the time the second period Saturday was just seven minutes old. "In this game, we got good chances, in part because the rebounds went to good spots, and the puck bounced to places where we could put it in.

"Sometimes, that's the way hockey happens, and we're just glad that's the way it went today."

By early in the third, a full-fledged Pirates game had broken out. It was 6-0, then 7-0, with the starter long gone, that being Marc-Andre Fleury, who exited down by four.

"If you've got a flower and you want it to grow," Boucher was saying about something else entirely, "if you pull the Flower, it's not going to grow faster."

Wait a minute, hadn't Dan Bylsma just pulled The Flower?

Let's try and keep this column related primarily to rabbits, shall we?

The plain hockey fact was that Tampa Bay floated onto the uptown ice at noon Saturday just about begging to get beat. The Penguins had innumerable early opportunities in a scoreless game that began under the conspicuous statistical thunderhead that the team scoring first had won every game in this series.

But Brooks Orpik's blast from the point made its way around five bodies before hitting the post to Roloson's left, and the Penguins' power play started another shameful 0 for 7 that took it all the way to 0 for 20 at home in the postseason.

"Sometimes, you need your goalie to be the best player on the ice early in games," said Gagne. "We were tentative for the first few minutes. We knew they'd be coming hard."

The first goal went instead to Gagne, who finished the kind of pretty offensive sequence the Lightning was supposed to be knitting this month but rarely has. Teddy Purcell and Vincent Lecavalier passed it to each other four times in one flash of Lightning, right before Purcell rang it off the post to Fleury's right. The puck went straight to Gagne and into the back of the net at 16:57. Just 43 seconds later, Stamkos backhanded a bouncing puck in the slot over Fleury for a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.

When Lecavalier and Gagne scored within five minutes of each other early in the second, the Lightning hadn't even started scoring power-play goals, but it put four of those in, too, the most ever against the Penguins in a playoff game.

"I think we were just trying to shoot a lot more," said Boucher. "In the other games, we didn't, we waited for better opportunities. We're a team that drives to the net a lot and we did that again."

You would have thought Boucher would admit to an easy day at the office. He'd gotten his big bunny in the form of an 8-2 victory, but it turns out it was so easy it was almost too easy.

"They're just extremely tough to manage, games like this," he said. "You don't want to get anybody injured, but you try not to drain anybody, either."

Boucher likely played Ryan Malone too much given the massive lead, and I would have pulled Roloson somewhere around 5-0, because again, he is 40-something.

Perhaps the Penguins will benefit from those things Monday night as they hope not to chase this postseason down the rabbit hole.

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11114/1141564-150-0.stm#ixzz1KRSALoja

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