Written by The Burgh Blog writer: Austin Tocco
What will it take to takedown the Tampa Bay Lightning? As a Penguins fan, I am still trying to figure it out. This team is playing without their captain Steven Stamkos and still have found a way to only lose 2 games in the 2016 playoffs. The Lightning made it to the cup final last year against the Chicago Blackhawks but we all know how that ended. If anything, Tampa Bay gained an abundance of experience from playing against Toews and company, just like the 2008 Penguins against the Red Wings, going on to win the cup the very next year. This is an outstanding hockey club, they have all of the qualities that a championship team should have. Their speed, physicality, size, stellar goaltending, and depth. Not saying that the Penguins are not, but this team definitely provides a true test for the Pittsburgh Penguins to advance to the next round, the Stanley Cup Finals.
3-1, was the final score Saturday night at Consol Energy Center in favor of the visiting Lightning. Their performance dominated the Penguins in every aspect of the game. Patric Hornqvist’s power-play goal in the second period proved to be the only tally for the Penguins. The first period was extremely weird, a bad hit on Penguins Kris Letang by Tampa’s Ryan Callahan led to a 5 minute power-play for the Penguins, which they could not convert on. Tampa’s Vezena finalist Ben Bishop, was taken off the ice on a stretcher early in the 1st period. Needless to say, I thought that this would be a huge break for the Penguins, however, it is never that easy. Tampa Bay brought in goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy who was nothing short of spectacular, stopping 25 shots. The Penguins ended the game with 35 shots, and 20 for the Lightning. Only scoring one goal on 35 shots makes you wonder, are the goalies for the opposition that good, or are we not converting on key opportunities? If the Penguins want to advance to another Stanley Cup Final, the Penguins must find a way to score, quickly.
The first game of the Eastern Conference Finals was not what I anticipated it to be. The first thing that caught my eye was the excitement of the crowd. I have never heard the Consol that quiet during this 2016 playoffs. It is the Eastern Finals, you would think people would get louder as the playoffs go on, apparently not. The crowd plays such a factor, when your team has home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup playoffs, you better be there to be loud. In the previous rounds, the crowd was into every game which clearly helped the Penguins. After Saturday, the Penguins are 8-4 in the playoffs and 5-2 at home. Home ice is such a key in the playoffs and the Penguins deserve to be cheered for the entire 60 minutes that they are on the ice. The players truly gain an abundance of momentum and confidence from the crowd. Maybe the crowd in game 2 will provide a better spark for the Penguins who found themselves down 0-1 in the series.
Another disturbing aspect of the Penguins play is Evgeni Malkin and our captain Sidney Crosby. Both of which did not score on Saturday evening. Malkin ended the game with 7 shots, and Crosby with 2. This two must convert on at least one of these shots to have a chance against Tampa Bay. Throwing it back to 2009 when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, you know what was different, the productivity of the two-headed monster. During the 2009 playoffs, Crosby tallied 15 goals and 16 assists with a +9 rating. This year, he has added 3 goals and only 8 assists with a -2 rating. In 2009, Malkin tallied 14 goals, 22 assists and a +3 rating. This year, he has only 3 goals and 6 assists with a -1 rating. It does not take a genius to figure out the Penguins need one of these guys to breakout. The reason the Penguins had the stellar ending to the regular season is because Crosby was playing MVP caliber hockey, if they want this series, one of them must step up and spark their team, after all, they are the captains. They cannot keep living off of goals by Matt Cullen and Nick Bonino, it will not last.
Another small thing I noticed, during the playoff run for the Penguins this year, each and every player back-checked each and every shift. This seemed to have disappeared in game 1, if the Penguins want to advance, they will have to do a better job with back-checking against the offensively powerful Lightning squad.
Beating Tampa Bay will not be easy by any means, but if the Penguins get back to playing their game and convert on a couple more opportunities, it can be done. The Penguins continue their quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup Monday night at 8pm in Pittsburgh, hopefully Crosby and Malkin will show up. The Penguins must win game 2 because going down 0-2 to this team then having the series shift to Amalie Arena will be difficult to overcome. The Penguins can do this, I have so much faith, one game at a time.
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