Bolts' changes in tempo, toughness fuel Game 2 thumping of Penguins
PITTSBURGH -- After being stonewalled by Pittsburgh goalie Marc-André Fleury for 32 shots two nights earlier, it didn't take long for the Tampa Bay Lightning to finally find a way to break through. Two minutes into the game, Tampa Bay defenseman Eric Brewer, who had been frozen to stone as Arron Asham came driving in to score Pittsburgh's second goal on Wednesday, broke in on a 2-on-1 and whipped a shot high on Fleury. As the puck hit the twine, one could almost sense a collective sigh of relief from the Tampa Bay bench.
"That first goal today helped us to feel better after what happened in the last game," said Lightning winger Simon Gagne, who fed Brewer the puck to collect his first of three assists on Friday.
By the end of the night, as the Lightning skated off, evening the series as it heads back to Tampa Bay, their 5-1 win at the Consol Energy Center was proof that Fleury, indeed, is mortal, and their offense is still deadly. With two power play goals and Brewer's score, which came on the power play, it was Tampa Bay which took control of the special teams in Game 2.
"The power play was a factor," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "We know they are a dangerous team, and the power play is something they excel at. ... We didn't manage the game well. We didn't manage our discipline."
It's a different tune from Wednesday, where the Penguins only gave up one power play opportunity. After Game 1 and again Friday, Lightning coach Guy Boucher made a point to mention the 6-to-1 disparity in calls, perhaps a gentle charge to the referees, who happened to swallow their whistles when Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek's stick shattered a couple of Martin St. Louis's teeth Wednesday night.
"If they're the most penalized team in the league," Boucher said of the Penguins, who led the league with 487 penalties this season, "it's going to show up the next games."
Indeed, just 1:21 into the game, Penguins forward Max Talbot took a slashing penalty off the face-off, and then seconds later, when the referees called St. Louis for hooking Michalek, it became apparent that whistles would again be a factor.
The calls went both ways in Game 2 with the Lightning getting six chances with an extra man to the Penguins' seven. But that was about the only thing that could be considered equal between these two teams' power play units.
Tampa Bay, with its arsenal of skilled offensive weapons like Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and St. Louis, led the Eastern Conference this season, converting on 20.5 percent of its opportunities by moving the puck well and creating traffic inside.
"Today we tried to put ourselves in a better position for the second and third chances, and we were able to score some big goals on [Fleury]," Gagne said. "We had a couple of goals on the power play tonight, and one on a 2-on-1. It's the type of breaks you're going to get in games, and you have to jump on them."
It took just seven seconds to jump on a Brooks Orpik penalty late in the second period, when St. Louis threw a sharp-angle shot on Fleury that found its way through his pads. The goal put the Lightning up, 4-1, essentially killing any momentum the Penguins had generated in the second period.
Even two power play opportunities in the third period for Pittsburgh wouldn't help, namely because the unit found it difficult to create much. Dawdling along this season at 15.8 percent, 25th in the NHL, Pittsburgh's power play leaves much to be desired: Their names are Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins' injured star centers.
"We didn't execute very well tonight, breakout-wise, entry-wise," Bylsma said. "When we have possession in the offensive zone, we have to be much better to think we're going to have a chance at success. ... It would have given us opportunities in every period to get a goal, to get momentum and get back in the game ... and our execution was not good enough."
If Wednesday's low-scoring affair, where the Penguins' discipline and structure kept Tampa's offense at bay, was exactly how Pittsburgh wanted this series to go, then Friday's game belonged to the Lightning.
"[Game 1 is] the game we want," Orpik said. "We don't want to get into a shootout against them."