Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Finally, the Playoffs Return To TAMMMMMPPPPPAAAAA!!!
So how does one write a playoff preview that isn’t like every other preview out there? Well, I don’t know so I’m not going to try. Besides, taking this serious would ruin the joy I’m experiencing as a fan whose team made it to the playoffs after 3 seasons spent wandering the NHL desert. It also means playoff beard! Maybe I’ll even post pictures….probably not, but you never know.
Anyway, back to the hockey preview. The Bolts reenter the second season as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. A late season swoon cost them home ice advantage, but left them with a rather favorable match-up against the Pittsburgh Penguins. This first round, four vs. five series features two teams that have struggled through injuries throughout the season and probably cost them one or two spots in the standings.
Rather than overwhelm you with breakdown of every aspect of the match up I’ll just give you what I think are going to be the two biggest aspects.
Man, I would love to find a way to say that the Lightning have an advantage between the pipes. Alas, this is one area where the Penguins have the decided advantage. Dwayne Roloson provided some stability for the Lightning after Mike Smith and Dan Ellis struggled to stop the pucks from finding the back of the net.
After a hot start, Roloson cooled a bit and finished with a 18-12-4 record. At 41 his durability will come into question with the condensed schedule over the next several weeks. Can his well documented work ethic keep him going or will he run out of gas and show his age?
Plus there is no way I would have gotten $10 for a Roloson jersey on eBay.
Marc Andre Fleury is their MVP. No ifs, ands, buts or maybes about it. He picked them up and carried them across the finish line when player after player left the ice for the trainer’s room. With one Cup under his belt he’s proven that he can handle playoff pressure, but will having to play in 657 consecutive 2-1 games finally wear him down?
Power Play vs. Penalty Kill
The Bolts were deadly with the extra man this season scoring 20.5% of the time (good for 6th in the league). The Penguins led the league in killing penalties having successfully defended their net 86% of the time. Refs tend to swallow their whistles a bit more in the playoffs than during the regular season so any man advantages that either team get will be important.
With a healthy Ryan Malone back in the lineup the Bolts can go back to setting up Steven Stamkos for his one timer. Malone’s big ol’ tattooed body will provide a nice screen in front of Fleury and he’ll be useful in batting home rebounds.
That being said, they have to be careful not to give up any short- handed goals. The Penguins will pressure the puck at the points and force the Bolts to make ill advised passes. With power plays being so few and so key in the playoffs, giving up short-handed goals can be a back breaker for a series.
On the flip side, the Bolts were decent killing penalties (83.8%) while the Penguins were anemic at best (15.8%) with the extra skater. Not having the best offensive creator in the game will do that to a team. If early on, the Pens continue to show their ineptitude the Bolts might play a bit more physically even strength.
Other Random Thoughts.
* Since February 19th Steven Stamkos has scored 5 goals. That’s 23 games. To put it in perspective, in a four game stretch in January Stamkos scored 6 goals. Why did I randomly pick the 19th of February, because it’s the anniversary of Thomas Edison patenting the phonograph, of course. Actually, it’s the game where the Panthers Mike Weaver sent Stammer into the boards extremely awkwardly and the hearts of Lightning fans skipped a beat.
There is not one mention of him being injured, just mention of how lucky he was to avoid serious damage to his knee and ankle. Coach Boucher has spoken about Stamkos being unlucky and is pleased with the opportunities he’s been getting during games.
This wouldn’t be the first time a team had been less than honest about a player’s health and I just have a sneaky suspioson that at whatever point the season ends, we’ll be treated to an “oh by the way Steven needs surgery on this or that” press conference.
If he isn’t hurt, then he needs to find that extra gear he started the season with because there is definitely something off about his game, and if it wasn’t for the reemergence of Vincent Lecavalier’s game then I might not be typing this preview.
* Who does Marty play with? The last few games have seen him skate with Lecavalier. But it’s undeniable that he shares chemistry with Stamkos as well. Is there any chance he can play on both lines? Forty minutes isn’t too long for a forward, right?
* Can Mario Lemieux petition the league to allow shoot-outs in the playoffs? Since January 1st they’ve gone to a shoot out or overtime 15 times, including a nice stretch at the end of March where they had to go to the shoot out in four straight games.
* I don’t like Matt Cooke, but I can acknowledge that his loss will be huge for the Penguins. His role as agitator is enhanced in the playoffs and his ability to chip in goals will be missed.
*Will seeing the Bolts 1-3-1 fore-check on a consistent basis be an advantage for the Pens? During the Bolts’ lull the skeptics claimed that other teams had figured them out. That talk died down when they won 7 of their last 8.
* Home ice advantage. The Ice Palace will be a very noisy place once the bandwagon fans pack in. Very loud. Will the new arena in Pittsburgh be as noisy? Who knows? The heat outside of the IP might be a factor on the play inside. If there are problems with the ice, it might help out the Penguins by neutralizing the Bolts speed advantage.
*Does Sidney make it back for this series? Can you imagine the pro wrestling crowd level pop if Crosby skates out for warm-ups in Game 5? If he does will he be a factor? He hasn’t played since Vic Hedman’s elbow planted his head against the glass in January. Crosby may be the best player in the game, but not having played at game speed in 3 months will take its effect on anyone.
* Final prediction - Bolts win in 6.