Sunday, April 24, 2011
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Lightning forward Simon Gagne pushes a puck past Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury during Saturday's game at Consol Energy Center.
Eddie Johnston has served the Penguins for about 100 years in every capacity from coach to general manager to wise, old adviser. He's one of the smartest hockey people I've ever known. When he speaks, I listen.
"We've got to jump on 'em," Johnston said Saturday before the Penguins played the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of their Stanley Cup playoff series.
The Penguins did just that once they dropped the puck shortly after high noon at Consol Energy Center.
"We've got to give 'em a reason to quit," Johnston said, more emphatically.
It was a heck of a plan, anyway.
Too bad the Penguins couldn't execute the second part of it despite thoroughly dominating the first 16 minutes-and-change.
Chris Kunitz got a lucky bounce off the boards and one-timed a wicked slap shot that Lighting goaltender Dwayne Roloson couldn't have expected yet somehow turned away just 1:28 in. The Penguins' power play couldn't score after Tampa Bay defenseman Pavel Kubina went off on an interference call at 6:47 despite getting four good chances. Brooks Orpik beat Roloson with a blast from the blue line at 13:09 only to have the puck clang off a goal post. Tyler Kennedy had not one, but two good opportunities at 16:10 and 16:33 only to have Roloson make both saves.
That's why the Penguins lost.
It wasn't because Tampa Bay later scored a touchdown and a 2-point conversion in its playoff-sustaining 8-2 win.
The Penguins just couldn't give the Lightning that reason to quit.
"It's difficult to put a team out," coach Dan Bylsma philosophized afterward. "They're playing for their last breath."
The good news for the Penguins is this loss counted as just one. It was so ugly it probably should have counted for three, but that's not the way it works in the playoffs. The Penguins still hold a 3-2 lead going into Game 6 Monday night at Tampa. Yes, they would be smart to jump on the Lightning early and give 'em a reason to quit.
You know, by scoring the first goal.
The team that has scored first has won every game in the series.
Bylsma talked at length about the "comfort" and "confidence" that first goal provides. Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher mentioned that his team played with more "poise" after Simon Gagne gave the Lighting a 1-0 lead by knocking a rebound by goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury at 16:57 of the first period.
I would say so.
The Lightning scored another goal 46 seconds later and three more in the first seven minutes of the second.
The Penguins were kicking themselves after the game for completely falling apart after a goal by Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos made it 2-0.
"We've got to keep going," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "We can't put our heads down when they score a couple ... We tried to score right away after they scored. There was plenty of hockey left. If we had just played our game and kept the puck in their zone, I think we could have come back."
We'll never know, will we?
Actually, we do know. We have a pretty good idea, anyway. The Penguins aren't built to come back from 2-0 without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They have to play with the lead.
The same is true of the Tampa Bay club, which dominated the Penguins in every way after Gagne got the first goal. It finished with a 4-2 edge in even-strength goals. Its power play went 4 for 7. It held the Penguins' power play to 0 for 7.
Repeat after me:
This loss counted as just one ...
If you really want something to worry about, worry that Tampa Bay's great Stamkos woke up in time to save the Lightning. He had two goals and an assist after doing nothing in the first four games. He scored 119 goals in his first three NHL seasons, yet his first goal Saturday was his first even-strength goal against the Penguins in 17 career games.
You're crazy if you think Stamkos isn't good enough to tilt the series Tampa Bay's way.
Of course, I thought Tyler Kennedy's goal in Game 4 was going to get the Penguins' power play going. You saw how that worked out Saturday. I also thought James Neal's winning goal in double overtime in Game 4 would get him going. He was a minus-2 Saturday and had just one shot on goal.
So you never know.
"This one is easy to handle. You just throw it out with the garbage," Penguins winger Mike Rupp said, pretending to shoot a wad of tape into a nearby trash can.
"You come back and play a better game the next game."
That sounds like a good plan, as well.
It's nice to think the Penguins will execute it a little better than they did Johnston's plan.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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