What a way to start off the playoffs in a new building. While the first period may not have been perfect, the Penguins sure turned it on for the final 40 minutes.
Getting outshot 14-10 in the first period isn’t a huge deal, but it became abundantly clear who was in charge in Game 1 early in the second period.
Marc-Andre Fleury’s save at the side of the net on Vincent Lecavalier, was the turning point in the contest for me.
I’m still stunned Lecavalier got as good a shot off as he did in that sequence. Stick between his legs, trying to chip the puck over an outstretched Fleury with his back to the net? Are you kidding me?
If you think the shot wasn’t impressive, grab a stick and try to emulate it while standing still. It’s the kind of slick move that if I had tried on the ice, I would have ended up with a serious injury.
The truth is, Lecavalier changed the shooting angle and had what appeared to be an easy goal. However, Fleury’s cat-like reflexes prevented Tampa Bay from getting that all-important first goal.
From there, the Penguins took control and went on to outshoot the Bolts 18-7 in the period.
Dwayne Roloson had to stand on his head in the second period just to give his team a chance to win. He also got some help from his posts, but that’s hockey. I will admit I had that thought of, “uh oh, both goalies are in the zone. Who’s going to blink first?”
Despite the heavy shot advantage in the period, the score remained tied heading to the third. My chest started to tighten up at the prospect of overtime in Game 1.
Pittsburgh had some early chances, but finally Alex Kovalev buried one to put the Penguins up 1-0.
If ever there was proof that the hockey gods exist, it was on that goal.
Seconds prior to lighting the lamp, Pavel Kubina chopped Kovalev to the ice to Roloson’s left. Kubina loses his stick in the process, but plays a legal hand pass behind his net.
Paul Martin pinched and chipped the puck to James Neal at the top of the left circle. Neal fired a slap-pass to Kovalev for the easy one-timer goal. Had the referee called the penalty, Kubina playing the puck behind the net results in a whistle and no goal is scored on the play.
Maybe the Penguins get one on the power play, but who knows?
The goal seemed to both fire up the Penguins and stun the Lightning because only 18 seconds later the red light behind Roloson lit up again.
Arron Asham came with speed through the neutral zone, faked a slap shot, attempted a wrap-around, lost control, got it back and buried it into an empty net to put the Penguins up 2-0.
If that seems like a lot, watch the replay. The whole play is nothing short of genius.
Asham completely froze Roloson and the defense with the fake. In fact, the fake worked so well that as Asham closed in on the cage, he drew Roloson completely out of the net.
From there it was just a matter of putting the puck into the net. It’s never a good thing when you give up a goal while another one is being announced.
Chris Kunitz would add an empty net goal to seal the deal as the Penguins claimed a 1-0 series lead.
I was very impressed to see the Penguins come out and establish a physical presence early in the game.
The hit by Brooks Orpik on Steven Stamkos should be on an instructional video for how to cleanly punish someone with a body check. I also liked how no one on the Lightning felt compelled to come over and drop the gloves with Orpik over a clean, solid hit.
Maybe things are different if that hit happens in the regular season, but it was a good change of pace from the norm all year.
The only real concern I had watching the game was the power play. Tampa Bay has shown a lack of discipline against the Penguins, even dating back to the regular season.
I know I said this will be a long series and I still believe that. However, the Penguins could expedite the process and potentially turn this into a quick series if the power play can cash in.
The Penguins were 0-for-6 on the power play in Game 1. Granted, a couple of those were abbreviated advantages, but it’s still not a good showing.
They managed 10 shots on the power play, but they also had a chance to completely put that game away on a 5-on-3 advantage already up 2-0.
If you look at how other teams have executed a 5-on-3 against the Penguins, you’ll notice that the defensemen close down to the top of the circles and there’s lots of puck movement from high to low and vice versa.
The Penguins were far too spread out on that 5-on-3 last night and were playing with the puck out by the blue line. Kovalev ended up with the best chance off a shot that sailed wide of the cage and caromed out to him on the other side of the net. Other than that, there wasn’t much of a threat to score.
Still, despite the 0-for-6, there were more chances generated than what we saw out of this team down the stretch on the power play. The unit appears to be making strides and can really only go up from here.
There’s always room for improvement and adjustments will certainly be made by both clubs before Game 2.
Overall, the Penguins “got to their game” and wore down the Lightning. If they can continue to stay disciplined and keep that potent Tampa Bay power play off the ice, they should be just fine in this series.
Mission 16W just got 1/16th shorter.
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