NHL Playoffs 2011: 5 Questions for Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
The regular season is over, but for 16 teams, it's the most wonderful time of the year, the NHL playoffs.
In this slideshow, I will preview the No. 4 vs. No. 5, Tampa Bay vs. Pittsburgh, Round 1 series.
These teams do not have any prior playoff experience against one another, so I am going to present everyone with the five questions that could be key to one team or the other winning the series and moving on in their quest to capture Lord Stanley's Cup.
Without further ado, here are the five questions that could be key to deciding this first-round series.
All statistics used were found on lightning.nhl.com, penguins.nhl.com and nhl.com. Dwayne Roloson's broken down statistics were found here.
Will Sidney Crosby Return to the Penguins Lineup?
This question has been burning in the minds of everyone, especially Penguin fans, since Sidney Crosby went down with a concussion as a result of two hits, one from the Washington Capitals David Steckel during the Winter Classic and a second from Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman on January 5th, the latter causing him to exit the Penguins lineup for the remainder of the regular season, possibly longer.
However, through the first few months (41 games) of the season, Crosby had 32 goals and 34 assists for 66 points. He would probably have run away with the Art Ross (most points in a season) and Rocket Richard (most goals in a season) trophies.
As it is, he still leads the Penguins in the goal scoring and points category.
Crosby did begin participating in game-day morning skates a couple of weeks ago, but it's still uncertain when or if he will return to the Penguins lineup.
If he does return, you can bet he'll have an impact.
Will Steven Stamkos Get out of His Slump?
Steven Stamkos' recent slump has been the talk of Lightning fans and the NHL for a while now.
Let's look at the numbers for a second.
Stamkos had 40 goals and was second in the league in points at the All-Star break. Since that time, Stamkos has had only five goals and went from being second to fifth in the league in points, essentially costing him a second straight Rocket Richard and possibly even an Art Ross and/or Hart Trophy.
It's also important to note that through 12 games, or most of March, the Lightning went through a slump of their own, winning only two games in regulation. That wasn't all Stamkos' fault—I'm sure it didn't help that the Bolts were missing several key players to injury.
Since that slump, the Bolts have turned things around, winning seven of their final eight games, many of them without Stamkos scoring. I'm sure it helped to have Ryan Malone and Steve Downie back from injury!
Either way, the Bolts need Stamkos to produce a little more than he has lately to have a chance at advancing past Round 1.
Will Dwayne Roloson Lead the Bolts the Way He Did Edmonton in 2006?
Dwayne Roloson was a difference-maker for the Edmonton Oilers, going 12-5-1 with a 2.33 goals against average (GAA) and .927 save percentage during their run to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals.
The big question now: Can and will he be that good for the Lightning?
He certainly has been great for the Bolts since he was traded to Tampa Bay from the New York Islanders on New Year's Day, 2011.
In 20 games with the Islanders, Roloson went 6-13-1 with a 2.64 GAA and a .916 save percentage. In 34 games with the Lightning, he went 18-12-4-4 with a 2.56 GAA and a .912 save percentage.
He's also 4-1 in his final five regular season games with the Bolts, allowing two or less goals in every win.
If he can stay hot, the Bolts should have a chance.
Will the Lightning Power Play Find Some Success?
The Tampa Bay Lightning power play has been the key to some of their success this season.
At 20.5 percent, the Bolts have the seventh-best power play in the NHL and the best power play in the Eastern Conference.
Unfortunately, they also allow the most shorthanded goals against (16). However, the Penguins lead the league in the penalty-kill department, killing off 86.1 percent of all penalties.
On the other hand, the Penguins power play was 25th out of 30 NHL teams during the regular season, converting only 15.8 percent of all opportunities. The Bolts on the penalty kill were eighth in the league, killing off 83.8 percent of all penalties called against them.
Let's just say I wouldn't be surprised if this series came down to special teams.
Will Depth Play a Large Role in This Series?
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins both have great teams; however, the Pens will most likely be a bit more shorthanded, at least depth-wise.
The Lightning, after missing a lot of key players during the final couple of months of the season, should be fully healthy. The Penguins, on the other hand, will be without Evgeni Malkin and possibly Sidney Crosby, their two stars.
Obviously, this doesn't mean the Penguins won't win. They actually have a great chance at winning the series, especially considering their regular season record without Crosby and Malkin.
The Bolts, however, do have Marty St. Louis, a candidate for the Hart Trophy and second in the league in points with 99, and Vincent Lecavalier, whose late-season outburst gave him 25 goals, 12 on the power play, and 54 points, along with Simon Gagne, Ryan Malone, Teddy Purcell and Dominic Moore, who are all in double digits in goals.
Randy Jones, the Bolts' top shot blocker before going down with an ankle sprain a little over a month ago, should also be ready in time for the playoffs.
I do believe depth may be a big factor in who wins this series. However, you never know.
After all, it is the playoffs!!!