I truly never thought I would say this about the Pittsburgh Penguins, but its lack of offensive talent cost the team this series.
Some people will credit Tampa Bay’s comeback to Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson, but I won’t. He honestly wasn’t all that good. He stopped the shots he should have, which is what you want from a goaltender.
But Roloson was by no means spectacular. I really can’t recall him robbing anybody of a potential game-changing goal. He stood his ground when challenged – especially last night with 36 shots against – but the Penguins simply couldn’t create much. They created “opportunities” by banging away at the puck while stuck in Roloson’s pads.
But not once in that series did we see any tic-tac-toe passing lead to a goal as we are used to seeing out of the Penguins. After Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, it’s clear that this team doesn’t have a player capable of taking over a game or even a power play.
The Penguins also continued their string of incomplete efforts. We watched three consecutive games of 40-minute dominance for Pittsburgh to end the series.
Saturday saw the Penguins dominate 75% of the first period, only to allow two Tampa goals late in the first period. The team came out in the second with seemingly no desire to come back and end the series right then.
It played like it knew there were two more opportunities to win, and ended up getting blown out of the water, 8-2.
Monday night was Pittsburgh’s second opportunity to end the series. The Pens allowed a goal immediately after scoring first, but could have easily been up a goal or two. The teams went into the locker room tied.
The Penguins then played well in the second period, but failed to score. They let in a goal and faced a 2-1 deficit heading into the third period. Jordan Staal would tie it three minutes into the period, but that was it.
Tampa took over the game in the third, and the Penguins succumbed again, losing 4-2.
And then there was last night. An absolutely wondrous effort from the boys in black and gold in the first period. The power play looked curiously effective. It didn’t score, but it moved the puck well and took shots. I honestly feel that 85% of the period was played in Tampa’s zone.
Unfortunately, the team couldn’t avoid becoming flustered and frustrated. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but the power play was atrocious in the second period. It looked like the power play that had gone 1 for 30 in its previous 6 games.
The game was much more balanced in the second, and the Bolts managed to get one past Marc-Andre Fleury, who was absolutely spectacular. This 20-minute lack of focus and total effort would doom the Penguins, despite the team playing out of its minds in the third.
Of the 36 shots Pittsburgh took last night, just seven of them came in the second period. 1-0 Tampa final. Pens pack up and leave.
All things considered, it was a helluva season for the Pens. I firmly believe that we have the bestteam in the National Hockey League when healthy right here in Pittsburgh.
Would the season have ended differently had the hockey gods not robbed us of our captain and best player in the world, in addition to Evgeni Malkin? Absolutely. I can guarantee we’d still be in the mix.
But, hey, you have to play the cards you’re dealt.
I’ll have season grades for every single player (plus Bylsma) in the coming days/weeks. Be sure to come back and check them out.
For the record, I went 7 for 8 in picking the first round, including Tampa over Pittsburgh in 7 games.
NOTE: I also chose Detroit over Phoenix in four games. The only series I missed was Nashville over Anaheim.
For the next round, I have Vancouver in four over (Nashville) Anaheim, San Jose in six over Detroit, Washington in five over Tampa Bay, and Boston in six over Philly.
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photos: http://flic.kr/p/9AjBEv, http://flic.kr/p/9quQvU