When the Tampa Bay Lightning look back on their first playoff experience in four years, they'll see a number of missed opportunities and a lesson in what it takes to win in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
One way to cost yourself victories: Carve a path to the penalty box. Tampa Bay's penalty kill took care of all six of the Penguins powerplays, but lost the flow in their offensive game during the kills, forcing the Lightning to just attack in spurts.
When the Lightning did get their chances, Marc-Andre Fleury was up to the task. Fleury twisted, turned, dove and did everything he could to prevent the Lightning from getting a tally. He single handily kept the anemic Penguins offense in the hockey game until the third period, when a lazy play by Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina left Alexei Kovalev alone in front of the net to give the Pens a 1-0 lead.
A tremendous individual effort by Aaron Asham proved to be the knockout blow, completing a two-goal spurt within 18 seconds.
More penalties by the Lightning would strip precious seconds off the third period clock.
Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis missed an opportunity to pull the Lightning within one when Fleury made a rare mistake. Believing that Pittsburgh had control of the puck, Fleury went behind the net to retrieve his goalie stick. Somehow, the puck squirted on to the stick of St. Louis, who saw a wide open gulf in front of him. Just as he let the shot go, teammate Teddy Purcell collided into him and he fired the puck over the net.
Such was the night for the Lightning.
Tampa Bay handled the emotion, intensity and physical game pretty well. They weathered most of Pittsburgh's pushes.
The one thing the team needs to learn is that in the playoffs, the refs will either swallow their whistle or side with the home team. Too many times Tampa Bay players lost their focus, barking at the refs for not calling penalties or for calling a ticky-tack call on Tampa Bay.
Yes, Marty St. Louis took a stick in the face that could result in some dental work in full view of an official and there was no call. A shift later, the same Pittsburgh defenseman highsticked Steve Downie. Again, no call. But when Lightning defenseman Mike Lundin caught Kris Letang in the face with a stick - the refs wasted no time in calling a penalty.
That's how it is in the playoffs, Bolts. Get used to it and play smarter.
At the beginning of the hockey game, Brooks Orpik obliterated Steve Stamkos into the boards—a clean, vicious hit—and it looked like the Penguins were going to beat Tampa Bay to a bloody pulp. The Lightning responded though, and they ended up ahead in hits (44 to 35).
Sometimes its better to be lucky than good and both Dwayne Roloson and Marc-Andre Fleury benefited from some lucky bounces. Roloson was outstanding, making 37 saves. Fleury was better, and each of his 32 saves seemed to need for him to stand on his head.
What it boils down to for the Lightning is yes, they played a tough, hard-fought game. They answered the call for physicality.
What let them down was their failure to bury their chances and their discipline on the ice. Without those two aspects of the game, you're not going to win a road playoff game.
Luckily for them, the loss of Game 1 isn't the end of the world. For the road team, you go into the series hoping to steal away home ice advantage by winning one of the first two games.
They failed in their first opportunity—they'll get another shot Friday night.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!