Tampa Bay Lightning v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Seven

Dwayne Roloson steals spotlight, shuts out Penguins in Game 7

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Going into this series, the story was that the Tampa Bay Lightning held a big advantage in the “star players” category, so Marc-Andre Fleury would need to save the day for the Pittsburgh Penguins. As it turns out, the hockey world should have focused on the other goalie in this series: Dwayne Roloson.

Roloson ended up being one of – if not the – biggest difference makers in Tampa Bay’s comeback from a 3-1 series deficit, underscoring his perfect record in elimination games with a 36-save shutout. (Roloson is now 6-0 in elimination games.)

Tampa Bay 1, Pittsburgh 0; Lightning win series 4-3

This year’s first round seemed to favor road teams, but that trend ended in Game 7s. The Lightning were actually the only away team to win in Game 7, as the Flyers, Canucks and Bruins all took care of business in their buildings when it mattered the most.

In a way, they also beat the Penguins at their own game. The Lightning beat the Penguins by scores of 4-2, 8-2 and 5-0 in their other wins while two of Pittsburgh’s three wins came by one goal. The thing is, anyone who followed the Lightning know that the team has been committed to defense, at least schematically. Just ask Patrick Roy about the defensive-minded tendencies of Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher.

The game’s only goal might be one of the weirdest of the playoffs because Sean Bergenheim scored nearly the same exact way in Game 6. Compare the two goals for yourself.

Bergenheim’s Game 7 goal:

Bergenheim’s Game 6 goal:

Weird, huh?

Ultimately, the Penguins couldn’t overcome Roloson’s outstanding goaltending, Tampa Bay’s superior offensive talent and the Lightning’s passable overall defense.

The outlook for both teams

The Lightning should feel great about themselves, although they face a much more balanced team in the top-ranked Washington Capitals. Obviously, these two teams know each other well after facing each other six times and battling it out for the Southeast Division title. Washington will be well rested and holds home ice advantage, but Tampa Bay should be much looser since the Caps will be under far greater pressure to succeed. Washington won’t see a huge advantage in star power, either, especially with Martin St. Louis remaining perhaps the league’s least-discussed superstar (four goals and four assists for eight points against Pittsburgh). Something tells me that if Steven Stamkos is even close to healthy, he’ll gladly try to one-up Alex Ovechkin.

That series will also feature an interesting goalie duel between 41-year-old Roloson and Michal Neuvirth/whichever early 20’s goalie the Capitals trot out.

Meanwhile, the Penguins must cope with mixed feelings. On the negative side, they failed to make it past the first round for the first time since the Ottawa Senators clobbered them in 2007. It hurts that much more because they used their guile to build a 3-1 series lead against Tampa Bay. Obviously, Pittsburgh will look back on their 1-for-35 mess of a power play and wonder “What if?”

I don’t think I’m alone in giving Pittsburgh a partial pass, to some extent, though. The team stayed relevant during the second half of the 2010-11 season because of hard work (and a decent sampling of charity points, by the way) but clearly missed the firepower of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

If Crosby and Malkin can eventually be healthy during the 2011-12 season, they’ll join a team that is among the NHL’s leaders in elbow grease. Once the pain of coughing up that series lead subsides, Penguins fans can daydream about Crosby/Malkin setting up James Neal for one-timers next season.

Those visions might look a lot like the feeds St. Louis sends to Stamkos, actually.

Kyle Connor expected to be healthy scratch for Jets

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Jets rookie Kyle Connor played just 10:09 in Sunday’s outdoor loss to the Oilers, and tonight in Dallas it appears he’ll be a healthy scratch for the first time in his NHL career.

Connor was not among the 12 Winnipeg forwards taking line rushes this morning. The 19-year-old has just one assist in his first five games as a Jet. He’s a minus-5 and has also struggled in terms of possession, as evidenced by his 38 percent Corsi.

The 17th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Connor spent one year at the University of Michigan before leaving school to turn pro. He’s eligible to be sent to the AHL this season, something the Jets are no doubt considering.

Winnipeg has a number of potential call-ups on its farm club, including Marko Dano, Quinton Howden, Andrew Copp, Nicolas Petan, and Jack Roslovic.

Babcock’s had his fill of goalie questions, thanks

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Head coach Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on prior to the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Mike Babcock is aware Toronto’s goaltending hasn’t been good this season.

He’s also aware that Toronto’s goaltending hasn’t been good the last few seasons.

Thing is, he doesn’t want to talk about it.

“It’s five games in, isn’t it?” Babcock replied on Tuesday, when asked about the Leafs’ shaky netminding so far, specifically the play of Frederik Andersen. “Let’s just take a deep breath here.”

And here’s a transcript of what followed (courtesy Sportsnet)!

Reporter: The guy on Saturday night said the Leafs goaltending has been lousy this year.

Babcock: Who did?

Reporter: The guy on Saturday night — Don Cherry.

Babcock: Oh, OK. Well now that I know where I’m getting my facts from, here we go. Come on. Let’s move on. What’s next here? Holy [expletive].

Reporter: No, but seriously, it’s been an issue for this market probably since Ed Belfour left, and I’m wondering if there’s anything to that.

Babcock: But I’m not dealing with that. This is what I would tell you. We think we have a really good goaltender. At the World Cup I had three outstanding goaltenders, and they all talked about how much time it usually takes to get ready.

Our guy didn’t have that opportunity because of his injury. We’re real comfortable with him. Do we think he’s played as good as he’s capable of playing? No. Do we think he’s going to? Yes.

Babcock’s right to suggest it’s too early to start grading Andersen. First, there’s the adjustment from playing behind a good team in a small market (Anaheim) to playing behind a “growing team” in a massive, pressure-packed market like Toronto.

There’s also the additional pressure that came with Andersen’s acquisition price (a first- and second-round pick) and his subsequent contract extension (five years, $25 million).

The injury suffered playing for Denmark in Olympic qualifying was definitely a setback, as there’s no doubt some games for Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey would’ve better prepared Andersen for the season.

Still, it’s hard to look at his numbers — 1-0-3, .879 save percentage, 3.63 GAA — and not be at least a little concerned.

Unless you’re Mike Babcock, that is.

Related: The list of struggling netminders is a long one, as it’s been goals galore to start the year

Elliott gets the start in return to St. Louis

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 24: Matt Stajan #18 and Lance Bouma #17 of the Calgary Flames congratulate Brian Elliott #1 after a shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Flames defeated the Blachawks 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Brian Elliott will be in Calgary’s crease against his old team tonight in St. Louis.

Even though Elliott played last night in Chicago, it was an easy decision for Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan. Elliott had easily his best game of the season against the Blackhawks, stopping 31 of 33 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory. The 31-year-old turned away all seven Chicago shooters in the breakaway competition, helping the Flames to just their second win of the young season.

“I definitely wanted that one,” Elliott told reporters afterwards. “We haven’t been playing like we wanted to and the guys came out and had a heck of an effort.”

Elliott started 164 games for the Blues during his five years in St. Louis. Last season, he backstopped them to their first conference final since 2001. He was then traded to Calgary in June, paving the way for Jake Allen to become the full-time starter in St. Louis.

Related: The list of struggling goalies is a long one

Crosby on track to make season debut tonight

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 30: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins waits for a face-off against the 
New Jersey Devils during the third period at the Prudential Center on January 30, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
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Yesterday, Sidney Crosby participated in a full-contact practice.

Today, it appears he’ll make his season debut when the Penguins host the Panthers tonight in Pittsburgh.

“He had a strong practice this morning,” head coach Mike Sullivan said, per the club. “Everything is pointing in the right direction. If he’s comfortable, he could play.”

Crosby has missed just six games due to the concussion he sustained during practice on Oct. 7. Given his history with concussions, if he plays tonight, it has to be considered a best-case scenario. Certainly, there had been fear he could be out much longer.

For the record, Crosby told reporters he’ll be a game-time decision.