Watch out Ovi and Sid; Steven is on his way

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Stamkos.jpgIt seems that everyone is focused on the race between Alex Ovechkin
and Sidney Crosby for the scoring title, and even more enthralled by
what will happen with the rivalry if they tie. Yet there is one name
that could upset the balance, and put a major wrench in the neverending
battle between Ovechkin and Crosby:

Steven Stamkos.

In just
his second season in the NHL, Stamkos is just two goals behind the
NHL-leading Ovechkin and Crosby with 42 on the season. He’s been scoring
at an Ovechkin-esque pace ever since the Olympic break as well, with
seven goals in five games. Here’s another impressive stat: Stamkos could
win the scoring title while taking considerably less shots than
Ovechkin, who we all know scores simply because he puts an insane amount
of pucks on net.

The Tampa Bay Lightning take on the
Washington Capitals tonight, and Stamkos will get a first-hand attempt
at overthrowing Ovechkin’s lead. This will be another matchup of two
teams on opposite ends of the competitive spectrum, and it’s most likely
going to be another big win for the Capitals at home.

Yet that
raises an important question: is Stamkos’ accomplishment this season
more impressive than Ovechkin’s or Crosby’s scoring pace based on the
fact that the team he is on simply isn’t that good? Ovechkin has Semin
and Mike Green, Crosby has Malkin. Sure, Stamkos plays with Vincent
Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis but they are shells of the players they
once were.

Here’s a telling stat: Out of 42 goals this season,
only three have been game-winning goals.

Personally, I’m hoping
that Stamkos is able to pull it off and grab the lead from Crosby and
Ovechkin. Those two superstars will always be the NHL’s top superstars,
but the league needs new blood. That Stamkos plays for the Lightning is
both tragic and a blessing; he won’t get the national recognition he
deserves but hopefully he can bring some (good) attention back to
Florida.

He’s not a flawless player, and he still has a very long way to go before he reaches the level of Ovechkin and Crosby. His assists are relatively low, and according to Cassie McClellan he’s a very one-dimensional player. But it’s just his second season; still time to grow and learn.

I know everyone loves to debate Ovi vs. Sid the Kid, but
the NHL needs some new players in that game. Hopefully Stamkos is the
guy.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

***

Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.