For the first half of the first period the Lightning really had the Pens on their toes. They had at least double the shots and were pushing the issue and getting some good scoring chances. The next two and a half periods were the Penguins saying "we are better than you" and dominating the game. The score ended up being 3-0, but if you watch the game it was much more than that. The Penguins took their game to the Lightning and made them play the Penguins style of game.
Also, has anyone seen Steven Stamkos? Did he show up in Pittsburgh? I didn't think so either.
I don't think I should have even said one more sentence before I mention Marc Andre Fleury. A year after getting yanked in game seven of second round against Montreal he made sure the same wasn't going to happen this year. He stopped all 32 shots that the Lightning threw on him with some massive saves in the first period to keep this team tied up and gave the offense a chance to figure it out. MAF made two epic saves, one on Lecavalier where he got his blocker on a shot from the door step and another on Malone where he should get 5-10 for the goal he saved. Malone tried to get into MAF's grill all night but it didn't matter. MAF was locked in and you could have probably played 6 more periods of hockey tonight and the Lightning still wouldn't have been able to solve MAF. Some have said that MAF might have to pick up a few shutouts and maybe win three of the games in this series for the Penguins to win this series. Well, there is one of them.
Fleury was great and so was the defense. Brooks Orpik made it known early that it wasn't going to be a cake walk for Mr. Stamkos as he leveled the young star on the first shift of the game. Stamkos' name was not called the rest of the game. The defense shut down the two big dogs of Tampa Bay to only three shots (Stamkos 1, St. Louis 1) and made the role players beat them. They could not. The foursome of Letang, Michalek, Orpik and Martin all played over 21 minutes tonight and they were good, which made the Tampa Bay offense not good. They were physical, aggressive and fast to the puck. They moved the puck out of the zone exceptionally well and was a big reason the Penguins didn't get buried by the 1-3-1 trap all night.
James Neal played his best game as a Penguin tonight. He only tallied an assist and three shots on goal but he was great of the fore check and was more physical than I have seen him in his short time with the Penguins. Before the game Potash got an interview with him and you could tell he was excited to be in that playoffs and he wanted to make an impact. He did just that. He laid out great hits in the offensive zone and made a beautiful pass to set up Alex Kovalev for the games first goal. Neal took a pass from Martin and had a lane to shoot but fed the puck cross ice to Kovy who tapped it into an empty net while he was being shielded by a player with no stick. Amazing pass. If Neal continues to play like this the offense gets that much better.
The Penguins did a great job of getting pucks at the net. In my game day I said that Roloson was a little old and that he wasn't up to the caliber of a Fleury. With the trap that the Lightning play they don't let him see a lot of rubber. During the regular season the Lightning only averaged just over 28 shots against a game. Tonight they gave up 39, the most that Roloson has seen all year. needless to say if this keeps up the Lighting are not going to have a good chance of winning this series.
So if you are like me you were super pumped for the Neal goal. I was out of my seat giving unreal fist pumps and yelling at the TV. Watch the replay, give another fist pump and say to myself that MAF can hold the fort. I look down at twitter to give a keyboard smash and I look up and Aaron Asham busts into the zone, I start to sit down and he gets Roloson out of position and plants one into the back of the net. Unreal. That is how you respond to scoring a goal, 18 seconds after the first. You got back and get more. The Penguins were hungry and they weren't going to back off and rely on the defense. The fourth line comes out and creates something. Total team effort.
I have to give it up for the people at CONSOL tonight. When ROOT came on for the Penguins going out to the ice for it was deafening. I expected that. First game of the playoffs and such it is expected to have a good buzz. Something that was really cool was the National Anthem. Jeff Jimmerson wasn't in the building, which was strange, but they had a member of the forces there to sing it. No problem with that whatsoever. Near the end of the anthem he stopped singing and let the fans sing it for about 10 seconds. The fans were loud and if that didn't give you chills you are not even an American. Never had that in Pittsburgh but I thought it was so cool. Even though it was a 0-0 game for the first two periods there was a noticeable buzz. They were giving "Lets Go Pens" chants and really getting loud during extended stretches when the Penguins would hold the offensive zone and it was nice to hear. When the Penguins scored their goals this is what Chris Mack had to say, who was in the CEC on press row:
It will be interesting to see how the officiating goes in game two. The Penguins lined up for six power plays and the Lightning only got one. Obviously power plays change the momentum of the game, but what are you going to do? Would love to hear people talk about how the officials favor the Penguins, since, you know they were the second most penalized team during the regular season. The official did miss a high sticking call, but I really didn’t see too many more misses. It will come around and I am sure this will even up more, but for the Penguins to be successful they will need to limit the Tampa power play and they did that tonight.
Overall it was a great game to come out with and a great way to open up the CONSOL Energy Center for playoff hockey. I can’t wait for it to be Friday already.
What did yinz think? Leave it in the comments.