Don't confuse simple with easy because this was far from a matter of assuming the position and getting the result. So much hard work and patience went into the Lightning's season, this series and this game. Artistically, this was beautiful only in the brute force exerted by the Bolts. The Penguins continued to crash, ultimately banging their collective heads against the wall that was the Lightning's structured strictures. Making it all hang together was veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who made several clutch saves throughout, as he demonstrated his mettle one more time.
Still, for all the time spent in the Lightning zone in the third period, the quality shot-to-zone time ratio was way out of whack. The Pens pushed forward and the Lightning herded them to dead zones on the outside. Once there, the Bolts closed and the puck just went round and round the zone, rarely getting to the middle of the ice. In that regard, the Lightning truly played a team game. Guys dug in together and no one cheated. The only goal of the game came on a behind the net reverse feed from Dominic Moore to Sean Bergenheim in the second period. It was a carbon copy of the duos' hook up in Game 6 and it exploited the only cheating play of the game, as goaltender Marc Andre Fleury anticipated a wrap around, slid post-to-post prematurely, exposing the weak side.
Other than that, both sides played with complete honesty and dedication to their respective systems. The Penguins achieved home-ice advantage even with Jordan Staal missing the first half of the season and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out the second half and this series. They couldn't take advantage at home in Game 7, nor could they cash on their man advantages. And yet, despite yielding a 3-1 series lead, it feels as if the Penguins overachieved in total -- given their critical injuries. Moving forward, they'll be fine. Stars Crosby and Malkin will return. James Neal will fit in. Kris Letang and Fleury return. The core is in tact. It was just too fractured this spring to really matter.
What matters is that the Tampa Bay Lightning move on under first year GM Steve Yzerman and rookie coach Boucher. You get the sense that the organization is headed in the right direction in a hurry -- heading as they are to the Eastern Conference semifinals. And the math will remain the same: timely goaltending + outstanding special teams + miles and miles of skating with purpose without the puck. Will it add up to another series win -- against the Washington Capitals, no less, who spent half the regular season discovering how to survive and eventually thrive in low-scoring, tight checking games?
It will be interesting to see how aggressive the Capitals choose to be on the attack. They seemed to rediscover their offensive flair late in their first-round series against the N.Y. Rangers. In the end, the Lightning downed a Pens team without its stars. Not so, the Capitals. Alex Ovechkin is ready. It won't be easy, though, especially if Roloson continues to thrive as a 41-year-old wonder. He became the oldest goalie ever to record a Game 7 shutout. But this next challenge has more skilled finishers. Should be simply captivating.
As simple as 1-3-1.