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:
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.