2011 NHL Playoffs: Comatose Lightning Bend to Will of Experienced Penguins

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIApril 21, 2011

James Neal celebrates the game winner of Game Four
James Neal celebrates the game winner of Game FourEliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

In Game 3, the Tampa Bay Lightning came out a bit too fired up for their own good and fell behind 2-0. In Game 4, the Lightning played as if the entire team had taken Lunesta right before the opening faceoff.

As Tampa Bay continues to try to figure out which level of intensity they need to come with when playing in front of the home crowd, the Pittsburgh Penguins took a 3-1 series advantage on the strength of James Neal's double-overtime game-winner.

The Lightning now face the daunting task of trying to string together three straight wins against the Pens, with two of the games in Pittsburgh.

What's Gone Wrong?

The Lightning don't want it enough. In the two games in Tampa, Pittsburgh dictated the pace of the hockey game and they are winning the majority of the battles along the board. That allows the Penguins to control the danger of the Lightning snipers and continue to pepper aging goalie Dwayne Roloson with shots.

The unforced errors in their own zone have been terrible. On the game-winning goal last night, twice the Lightning failed to clear the puck out of their own zone, allowing the Pens a chance to set up a shot.

While Neal's game-winner had eyes on it, he should have never had the chance to fire the surprise shot.

Tampa Bay must be stronger on the puck. At one point in Game 4, Pittsburgh owned a 20-6 shot advantage. That's unacceptable.

Dwayne Roloson was terrific for the Lightning in Game 4, but you can't expect a 41-year-old goaltender to face 51 shots and not give up any.

Is the Series Over?

Beating a solid, spunky Pittsburgh team three consecutive times is going to be difficult. The Pens have played extremely well despite being without Sidney Crosby—perhaps the best player in the NHL. The Penguins know how to close out playoff series—they're one of the best in the NHL at it over the last couple years.

Still, there is that understanding in the back of everyone's mind that as long as you are alive you have a chance.

No one thought Montreal would rally from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the top-seeded Capitals in the first round last year. When Philly fell behind 3-0 to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals, most expected to see the Bruins competing for the cup.

It's happened three times in the last four years. 

Despite the huge shot differential, Tampa Bay had just as much of an opportunity to win both Game 3 and Game 4. It's not like Detroit and Phoenix, where the Red Wings ran the Coyotes out of the playoffs with multiple blowouts.

Still, the stark reality of this deficit is that in the history of the NHL, only 9.6 percent of the time has a team down 3-1 in the series rallied back to win. 

How Do the Lightning Pull It Off?

The Lightning must understand they're not going to win back all the games they lost on Saturday. Start with winning a shift. Shift after shift, just do you best to win the battles along the board and control the puck.

When you win the puck, shoot the dang thing.

"It's been the focus of a lot of our meetings," Lightning coach Guy Boucher told the St. Pete Times, "Our guys are teeing it up, and they're trying to aim all the time.

"All year long we're a team that put a lot of pucks on net. And right now we're waiting for the perfect opportunity, the perfect shot."

That needs to end if Tampa Bay is going to extend the series. The Lightning have some of the most skilled scorers in the league—but if you don't shoot the puck you can't score. Stop being cute with it—shoot it and see what happens. That's how Neal won Game 4. It's also how the Penguins have scored the majority of their goals.

Many of Roloson's saves in the series have been easy, straight on shots. The Penguins just kept chopping wood—shot, save, shot, save, shot, save—until finally a rebound squirts out at the wrong time or the goaltender lets his concentration lapse for just a hair...and in the back of the net it goes.

That's how you score in the playoffs, folks. The Penguins know this, the Lightning are learning it.

By the end of this series, the Bolts will have a wealth of knowledge on how to win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They can only hope that class won't be dismissed on Saturday.


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