For whatever reason, when I’ve decided to gauge public opinion about the Pens’ chances against the Tampa Bay Lightning in their first round series, the prevailing sentiment is that the Pens will win in 5 or 6 games, and that will be that. I can’t figure out why, but no one seems to be taking the Bolts seriously. That’s a mistake.
For once, the Pens will enter a playoff series without the overwhelming advantage in the offensive firepower department. Tampa Bay features Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, and also have some depth with Simon Gagne and Ryan Malone. They can score goals quickly, and their trapping 1-3-1 style encourages turnovers and transition offense. The Pens will be able to counter with a rock solid defense corps and Marc-Andre Fleury, who is significantly better than his counterpart, Dwayne Roloson, but the teams are overall pretty evenly matched.
The one major concern I have leading into this series is the fact that the Pens are struggling to score goals. Tampa Bay has a porous defense, and while the Pens should be able to exploit it to get chances, it remains to be seen whether or not they’ll be able to convert those chances into goals. If the Pens aren’t getting goals, especially the first goal of the game, the Bolts can make them pay, and with their skill level up front, could forge multi-goal leads early in games. Those are the kinds of deficits these Penguins aren’t built to overcome.
If the Pens can get the first goal more often than not in this series, they’ll probably win, but if they are forced to play from behind, it could be a short and unpleasant stay in the post-season.
That said, this team has played too well down the stretch to go up in flames in the first round. It won’t be easy, but the Pens will squeak past the Bolts into the second round.
Pens in 7.