Tampa Bay Lightning
7:00 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA
Well the playoffs are here. If you ask me (and I know you wanted to) the NHL playoffs are the best of all the major sports. Granted, I am not an NBA fan too much (I will watch though) and those playoffs are very similar to the NHL playoffs, but the NHL playoffs are what it is all about. Every game is played like the last game and every single goal can be the make or break of the series and the season.
Heros and goats are made through the tough times like this. Goaltenders hold weights of whole cities on their back, you stand in your living room during full periods in overtime when you have like six couches and the anticipation of a huge goal when your team is tied with three minutes left in the game is in the air and you can literally grab it. You cheer, cry, laugh, scream, grow horrid beards, don't change a thing and swear off your family for this. No idea what makes people like this, but it is playoff time. Nothing like it.
The Penguins are back in the playoffs again. Gone are happy times of skating around Joe Louis Arena with the Stanley Cup and likewise gone are terrible memories of Jaro Halak being that goaltender with a whole city on his back as he crumbles dreams of back-to-back cups in the Steel City.
The 4-5 match up is supposed to be a coin flip. It might be. These teams are very close and yet very different. Pittsburgh comes in with their superstars out due to injuries and riding MAF and a stingy defense to 49 regular season wins. Tampa Bay comes in with a trio of superstarts in Vinny Lecavalier, Steve Stamkos and Mary St. Louis with a 75 year old goaltender. Both teams split four games this season with the home team winning two games each. Unreal times.
The Lightning have three people on their roster from when they won the last cup before the lockout and the Penguins combat that with a number of players still on this team when they won the cup a few years back in JLA. Two Penguins are making their playoff debut.
Role players are key during any playoff run. For the Penguins it has been TK, Dupuis and Rupp and for the Lightning it is another Penguins killer in Simon Gagne, Steve Downie to join ex-Pens Ryan Malone, Adam Hall and Dominic Moore.
I could probably go on all day about what this is going to be like, but all of you know what it is. Some say it is a marathon and not a sprint, and while true, it is so hard not to have that sprinters mentality during game one of the cup finals. You wait all season to make it to the playoffs. Crosby and Malkin have been out for pretty much half a season. 106 points. 49 wins.
Mike Rupp said it perfectly in the PG yesterday:
"Honestly, there was a bit of a chip on our shoulders back when our big guys got hurt," Rupp said. "The hockey media across North America questioned us. When you read or hear that we're 'hanging on' until those guys come back, you take that personally. I mean, we're obviously a better team with Sidney and Evgeni in the lineup. But we're also a good team without those guys."This is going to be an unreal run. It starts tonight.
He thumped his thumb on his chest.
"I deserve to be here. I deserve to be in the NHL. So does every guy on this team. We've done our work. This was our opportunity to show that we're still the Pittsburgh Penguins. I didn't want to wait for help. I wanted to get it done.
Here are the regular season match ups which the teams split two games each:
October 27: Tampa Bay 5, Pittsburgh 3
November 12: Pittsburgh 5, Tampa Bay 1
January 5 - Pittsburgh 8, Tampa Bay 1
March 31 - Tampa Bay 2, Pittsburgh 1
The Penguins probables:
James Neal - Mark Letestu - Alexei Kovalev
Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal- Tyler Kennedy
Pascal Dupuis - Max Talbot - Chris Conner
Mike Rupp - Craig Adams - Aaron Asham
Kris Letang - Brooks Orpik
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Matt Niskanen - Ben Lovejoy
Marc Andre Fleury
For the Lightning:
Simon Gagne - Steven Stamkos - Steve Downie
Nate Thompson - Vincent Lecavalier - Martin St Louis
Adam Hall - Dominic Moore - Dana Tyrell
Ryan Malone - Teddy Purcell - Sean Bergenheim
Victor Hedman - Pavel Kubina
Matt Lundin - Eric Brewer
Brett Clark - Mattias Ohlund