The Pittsburgh Penguins will be looking to take a stranglehold on their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series tonight in Tampa Bay.
A win would put the Penguins up 3-1 and give them a chance to close it out on home ice Saturday afternoon.
Speaking of Saturday afternoon, if the game isn’t on NBC, why is the puck dropping at noon?
My guess is that Root Sports is broadcasting the Pirates’ game later in the day, but we won’t go down the road of which team’s game is more important. You already know the answer to that.
For the Penguins to have that opportunity to close out the series and march on to the second round, a few things need to happen.
1. Get The First Goal
The team that has scored first in all three games has gone on to win the game. This becomes especially more important when playing an opponent who plays a 1-3-1 system. I don’t know why Guy Boucher is refusing to admit that his team plays a 1-3-1, but it’s clearly the case.
In the playoffs, the team that scores first goes on to win about 95 percent of the games. Okay, so the number isn’t actually that high, but it does tend to bode well.
Tampa bay’s fans were amped up to see relevant hockey in April for the first time since 2007 the other night. Max Talbot’s goal, followed by Arron Asham lighting the lamp seconds later, quieted the house. You couldn’t have drawn up a better gameplan.
2. Score On The Power Play
I said yesterday that the Penguins’ power play in Game 3 was the best it’s looked in a long time. I suppose it wouldn’t take much to improve upon how dismal it was down the stretch, but let’s keep the positive mojo flowing.
The entries into the zone were different, but they worked. I counted at least three different schemes to enter the zone in Game 3. All of them helped the Penguins get set up.
Once in the zone, pucks and bodies were moving around the zone, which led to a couple great chances down low. I really feel that this team is close to figuring out the problem on the power play. It’s going to take a little bit to get there, but now is the time to step up and make Tampa Bay pay for being undisciplined.
3. Contain Tampa’s Big 3
At 5-on-5, the Penguins have been able to keep the trio of Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos in check.
However, on the power play, St. Louis has three goals and Lecavalier has one. Let’s not draw too much attention to Stamkos’ struggles down the stretch and through the first three games of this series. Hopefully, he doesn’t wake up any time soon.
Honestly, St. Louis has had it too easy in this series. Yes, I’m aware he had a double root canal after Game 1 and that must not have been a pleasant experience.
Someone needs to put a body on him the way Brooks Orpik crushed Stamkos in the opening minutes of Game 1.
Most players can’t score when they’re flat on the ice. Sidney Crosby can, but St. Louis is not Crosby. Don’t get me wrong, St. Louis is a great player, but he’s not on Crosby’s level.
4. Be Physical, But Smart
When Pittsburgh has come out hitting, they’ve put Tampa Bay on their heels. They can’t go out of their way to deliver hits, but finishing every check is something that wears a team down over the course of the game.
The grinders on the Penguins need to get into the corners and finish off Tampa Bay’s defensemen. The more they get hit, the more likely they are to rush a pass and turn the puck over.
The Penguins’ defensemen will need to be physical with Tampa Bay’s forwards who like to camp out near the crease. Pittsburgh needs to box them out and clear them out so Marc-Andre Fleury can see the shots coming at him.
However, they need to be smart.
Staying out of the penalty box will give the Penguins the best chance to win this game tonight.
The puck is set to drop at 7 p.m. and you can watch the game on Root Sports.
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