NHL Playoffs 2011: 5 Predictions for the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Series
The Penguins have lost their two superstars—Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin—to injury, but still boast one of the best defenses in the league and the only Stanley Cup-winning goalie in the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins also own the league's best penalty kill, which should help to quell the Lightning's powerful power play.
The Lightning have a potent offense, led by superstars Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, but their questions lie on defense and in net.
The Lightning don't have a premiere shutdown defenseman, but second-year pro Victor Hedman is steadily emerging as a quality blueliner.
Dwayne Roloson has been good in net for the Lightning, but at age 42, some people are wondering if he will be able to hold up for a playoff run.
This matchup also features a head-to-head battle of two probable Jack Adams Trophy finalists behind the bench. Dan Bylsma and Guy Boucher have both had extremely good years coaching, and it will be interesting to see how Boucher's fast, offensive system fares against Bylsma's cautious, defensive structure.
1. Penguins Score at Least One Short-Handed Goal
The Tampa Bay Lightning allowed a league-high 13 short-handed goals against, while the Penguins scored the second-most shorties with 11.
The Penguins penalty kill isn't only good at keeping the puck out of their own net, but is dangerous offensively as well.
One of Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis or Max Talbot will score a momentum-shifting short-handed goal in this series.
2. Dwayne Roloson Will Post a Shutout
Without the goal scoring of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Pittsburgh Penguins offense is somewhat impotent.
Dwayne Roloson has a tendency to go on hot streaks and post shutouts, such as when he had four in 11 games upon arriving in Tampa Bay.
Roloson will have to get hot and stop the Penguins by posting at least one shutout this series.
3. Sidney Crosby Will Be Cleared for Contact, but Won't Play
One of the biggest questions surrounding this series is whether Sidney Crosby will return. Lightning coach Guy Boucher is preparing for Crosby regardless. Boucher told reporters, "To me, he's playing, period."
Boucher's point was that even if Crosby doesn't play, the Lightning have to be ready for the chance that he will play, which is an appropriate attitude on his part.
My prediction is that Crosby will not see the ice during this series. I think he will be cleared for full practices (including contact) at some point during this playoff round, but won't play until at least the second round, if the Pens are still alive.
4. Home-Ice Advantage Will Be Crucial
The Penguins and Lightning are two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference on home ice. The home team won every game in the regular-season series.
The trend will continue for the playoff series, where the Penguins will open a 2-0 series lead at Consol Energy Center, before the Lightning even things up at St. Pete Times Forum.
5. Pittsburgh Wins in Seven Games
This series is almost too close to call. Tampa's powerful offense will battle with Pittsburgh's great defense to force a Game 7.
Ultimately, the experience of two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, including a win, and three Game 7s in the last two years will help the Penguins prevail.
Marc-Andre Fleury will come up extremely clutch and the Penguins will advance.
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