Game 3: W 3-2 , Game 4: W 3-2 (2OT) , Game 5: L 8-2 (Pens lead series 3-2)
-After 5 games, the story continues to unfold. From the Tampa side, there is sure to be a bravado. "We have 'em right where we want 'em" is likely a rally cry for their fanbase. Frankly, it's tough to tell if that's false optimism or the truth. More than anything, that right there is the beauty of the NHL playoffs. We've witnessed 5 games, the Penguins are within 1 game of winning the series, yet it could still go any way.
Make no mistake, if you're a Pittsburgh Penguin you want no part of a game 7. But at the same time, you can't lose faith in yourself if it gets to that point. They say you should never bet with your hearts, but I"m still picking the Pens to win game 6. Home teams are 16-23 in the games played thus far in the 2011 playoffs...not exactly an overwhelming case for "home ice advantage".
Will last season's Penguins team show up or will the "road dogs" from the Stanley Cup season? Only time answers that. If you've followed the blog this season, you know that I'm a Pens fan. I don't apologize for that. That doesn't mean I can't look at the team objectively though.
So far, they've been timely and oppurtunistic in their wins, and terrible in their losses. That doesn't give me confidence in a long playoff run...but it also doesn't mean they hand over game 6. If that happens, I'll be in the building for my first ever game 7...I don't think my heart will be able to handle it, so if you've enjoyed this blog at all, hope for a game 6 win!
-Tyler Kennedy's game 3 goal was huge. It came right after the Ning rallied to tie the game. If the Penguins win the series, this was likely one of the top reasons why. Had game 3 went to OT, perhaps the series takes a different shape. He also netted a power play goal in game 4.
-James Neal got a fluky, yet superb goal in the second OT of game 4. This doesn't reverse the fact that he has done little of what he was brought here to do (score goals), but he has worked hard and it was good to see a bounce go his way.
-Arron Asham continued his excellent play in games 3 and 4, scoring in each game. All credit to him for stepping up, but for him to be the lead scorer after 5 games isn't an overwhelming sign that this team has the depth in scoring to go deep.
-Because of the Chris Kunitz suspension, Eric Tangradi was in the lineup for game 4 and his screening of Dwayne Roloson greatly assisted Tyler Kennedy's shot in finding the net.
-Unrelated to this series, Pens billionaire co-owner Ron Burkle is making a bid with legend Steve Garvey to buy the LA Dodgers from MLB. Head here for more information if you are interested. He is also on a short list of candidates to purchase Warner Music Group. Article on that can be found at this link. Best of luck to Mr. Burkle in all his pursuits.
-Game 3 featured two plays that were suspendable incidents. Tampa's Steve Downie took about 6 strides and blind-sided Pens D Ben Lovejoy behind the net, while also leaving his feet to make contact. Pens F Chris Kunitz later elbowed Tampa's Simon Gagne for no reason other than retaliation. Both plays warranted suspension, and deserved more than 1 game each player was penalized. For that matter, each play warranted more than a 2 minute in-game penalty in my opinion as well.
The Kunitz play is pretty simple, watch it below. If you think this isn't an intent to injure on Kunitz's part, I'm not sure we are on the same wavelength in terms of how the sport of hockey should be played. I would have given him a match penalty and sent him to the showers for the night.
Then we have the Steve Downie run on Ben Lovejoy. My view on these types of hits has changed over the years. I will admit to being in the building on a few instances where then Pens F Colby Armstrong caught someone in a similar fashion. Did I cheer? You bet. As I've come to realize the danger of blindside hits in the sport, has my opinion changed? You bet. Wreckless blindside hits, especially when they fit the criteria of a charge have no place in the sport. Watch the hit here again. Why this wasn't a 5 minute match penalty as well is beyond me. NHL referees are a slight notch above the old WWF refs that would be looking in the crowd while somebody took a crowbar to the face. Come on guys, there are 4 of you out there at a time. Put your heads together, and make the tough calls to preserve player saftey!
Ok, so both of these plays warranted a suspension, but a play from the Vancouver-Chicago series did not. Vancouver's Raffi Torres hit Chicago's Brent Seabrook in a similar fashion. It was not as blatant of a charge, yet it was a blindside hit behind the net. No suspension was levied because he made "legal contact to the head". You read that right. Concussions were up in the sport of hockey, and there is such a thing as "legal contact to the head".
NHL Dud of Discipline Colin Campbell in charge of all this stuff and has continually missed the point and oppurtunity to gain control of the growing danger of headshots. For a great article on the matter (seriously, I don't mean that superfluously), head on over to bleacherreport.com. I would like to write and expound on the matter, but Tim King already has and says it best when he states that these incidents "have exposed Colin Campbell as a clueless buffoon whose continued presence on the scene will do nothing to clarify this matter for players or fans going forward."
Let us also not forget that Pens super villain Matt Cooke was banished for the rest of the regular season and first round of the playoffs for an illegal hit. I support the supsension even though it was one of Cooke's more tame violations this season. That was surely a way to stick it to the Pens for the Islanders debacle.
Campbell's reasoning for the low supsensions for Kuntiz and Downie was that playoff games are "worth more". If playoff games are "worth more" in terms of a punishment, would they by extension also not be "worth more" in terms of a possible injury to a player? Would that "worth" not dictate more instead of less? I think the answer is obvious, but when it comes to the NHL and consistent officiating and discipline they are worlds away from the other sports leagues. This is a danger to player safety, confusing for the players who want to stay within the rule set, and a total embarrassment to the sport. I'm hoping Colie will make his discipline less about sticking it to Pens co-owner Mario Lemieux and more about what it should be, the betterment of his sport.
-Pens Power Play is now 1 for 25 in series. Root's Paul Steigerwald was critical of Tampa Captain Vincent Lecavalier for taking too many penalties and how that's not leadership. Somebody should tell Steigy it's only hurting your team if the other team's PP unit scores above the current 4% clip they have scored at. If I'm Coach Guy Boucher, I make it well known that penalties in the defensive zone between the circles are a-okay with me. "Prove me wrong" would be my motto.
-On the other side of the equation, Tampa has scored 8 times in 22 chances (36.4%). Don't lose sight of the impact Matt Cooke's absence is having on the team's PK. That's not whining. Cooke deserves to be out, and again I criticize his selfish play for costing the team. If I'm Ray Shero, I take a long hard look at moving him in the off-season. This is when we need him the most, but because he has the inability to head-hunt he is watching from the press box. As those across the pond might says, "Bollocks!".
-What can you really say about an 8-2 loss at home when you have a chance to close out a series? From top to bottom, the battle level wasn't there. Each player should (and hopefully will) take a look in the mirror and at the game film and realize that they didn't play Penguins hockey. They were sloppy and lethargic (like I say they usually are in day games) and once behind they ran around head hunting and looking for scrums and hits. Game 6 will be won on the scoreboard and the way this group can get on the scoreboard is keeping it simple with short, crisp passing, and hustle to loose pucks. If Tampa is winning the battles as they did in games 2 and 5, this series will go 7. Once you reach game 7, you flip a coin and hope for the best. The Penguins control their own destiny still. Win and the 2 bad losses in the series do not mean a thing aside from items that the coaching staff can teach with.
-Coach Guy Boucher finds his team down 3 games to 2, yet if you are looking for him to blink it isn't going to happen. His team returns to the their home ice for game 6. That's all they have to worry about. They've won or been in each of the games in the series, so they don't have worry from that standpoint. His main concern may be the Penguins collective playoff experience in meaningful games. He will rely on his vets such as Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Ryan Malone to make sure the younger guys are in the right frame of mind. They can't win the series in game 6, but they can certainly devastate the Penguins with a win and keep their season alive. One step at a time is all they have, but it's also all they need.
-Tampa has to be excited beyond belief at the team wide awakening in game 5. "Spucoli" Steven Stamkos netted his first 2 goals, and took a big step towards alleviating any possible criticism that he was absent when his team needed him the most. Watch for him to be energized in game 6. With all the attention that must be paid to the other Ning forwards, Stamkos could get open for some of his patented one time goals from the sides.
-G Dwayne Roloson continues to be a large part of the story for Tampa. he has stopped 180 out of 191 shots for a .942 save percentage. That is getting the job done. Just for statistical comparison, Marc-Andre Fleury has stopped 112 out of 124 shots for a .903 save percentage.