Another huge game from the Penguins in a big time game. All season everyone has talked about what this Penguins team couldn’t do without the likes of Crosby and Malkin, but the Penguins just keep finding ways to pick up huge wins when they need them the most. The most recent was a 3-2 win over the Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum. It was a great game to watch if you love hockey. The Penguins jumped out early, Tampa came back and tied it up, the Penguins quickly took the lead back and led to a frantic third period where you were on the edge of your seat, especially if you were a Tampa or Pittsburgh fan. Unreal feelings. Game four on Wednesday night. Buckle up.
This was a great all around game from the Penguins. They played as a team and it worked out. They got scoring from Aaron Asham, Max Talbot and Tyler Kennedy and another solid goaltending performance from Marc Andre Fleury to go along with pretty stellar defensive play to get the Penguins two wins away from the second round of the playoffs.
Kris Letang was a monster in tonight’s game. He, in my opinion, was the player of the game for the Penguins. Since Crosby and Malkin have been out it seems as if he has been tentative and hasn’t really played like he did in the first half of the season. In game one Letang was great and tonight it seems as if he found his stride again after a horrific game two. Letang was jumping up in the rush and getting shots on net and still playing a strong defensive game. If Kris Letang plays like that the rest of the series it is going to be hard for the Lighting to get past the Penguins.
To me it was pretty simple, if the Penguins keep the Lightning off the power play they are going to have a great chance of winning this series. Tampa went 2-of-4 on the power play and really got nothing going 5-on-5. In fact the Lightning have only scored two goals this series (in three games) during even strength play. The Penguins were still sort of undisciplined tonight and even though there were a few questionable calls the Penguins need to be smarter. Tampa thrives off their power play and give them enough chances and they will beat you.
In my game day I talked about how Marc Andre Fleury was a great bounce back goalie. He might have a bad game here and there but you are almost certain to get a solid game from him the next time around. He did that tonight. 25 saves for the Flower and when the Penguins were struggling in the second period he was there to bail them out and hold the lead. He doesn’t have to be a goaltender that pitches a shutout every night to give his team a chance to win. When you get a one goal lead in the third period you want your goaltenders to show up and MAF does that. He made some big saves late and didn’t give up a softie. Nice game from the Flower.
James Neal is just snake bit. There was a power play chance for him that he got robbed by Roloson. I see on twitter that people are really taking aim at James Neal and bashing him a little bit because he isn’t scoring goals. Listen, James Neal plays a very nice all around game and has been all over the ice these three games. He is missing the net some and just can’t tickle the twine. I am not worried about him. I will be worried about him, and Jordan Staal for that matter, when they stop getting chances. There is a different between not putting the chances away and not getting chances at all. Neal and Staal are getting chances and working hard. They will fall.
Guys who seem to never get much love are guys like Chris Conner, Mike Rupp and Craig Adams. Both had really nice games tonight. When you play like the Penguins have to without your top guns you need to have guys that are willing to do anything to win. Guys like this are the kind of players you want to have. Conner was unreal with his puck control tonight, especially in the corner and he laid his body on the line as time was ticking down to block a shot from the point out of the zone. Craig Adams is another grinder who has won some big face offs and Mike Rupp is just Mike Rupp. Great job by these guys tonight to get puck control and set the tone.
I know some people are asking for Derek Engelland to get in and play but if he is it’s not for Ben Lovejoy. Lovejoy played a really nice game tonight despite almost getting decapitated in the first period (I will talk about that later). He blocked a team-high four shots and was pretty physical and played within himself tonight. That is exactly what we need a third pairing defender to do, play within himself.
Zbynek Michalek might be the signing of the century for Ray Shero. Dude just does everything for this team. Played almost 28 minutes tonight and any time that there was an odd man rush and he was on the ice there was no doubt that he was going to make a play. Z puts his body on the line and just seems to have the general hockey knowledge to know what to do in any situation. He played a very underrated game tonight and probably saved the Penguins at least a goal. What a player.
With all the talk about head shots and keeping players safe there were two dirty plays in the first period alone of this game, one for each team. Steve Downie, who is boarder line at best, threw a “check” on Ben Lovejoy in the first period that led directly to the Penguins first goal my Talbo. Lovejoy takes the puck behind the Penguins net and as he turns to let it go just get demolished by Steve Downie. Here is the video (via HFBoards with a thanks to Adam http://twitter.com/AGretz for the find)
This should be a suspendable offense, but it wouldn’t shock me to see him go through without anything. The thing that makes me think this will warrant a suspension is that Downie clearly left his feet which is supposed to be a HUGE no-no. I say that and then think of Kronwall and OV and I can see how there will be nothing done about this.
A few minutes later Chris Kunitz made it a lot more difficult to think about what the NHL is going to do. Simone Gange was in the slot and Kunitz sort of came up behind him and got his elbow up into the head of Gange and earned a two-minute elbowing penalty.
It was also a dirty hit, no denying that, and I am really surprised that he didn’t get at least a major penalty. Couple that with the Downie hit and the NHL will have to do double the work (gasp) to make everyone pissed. The way I see it is that both are probably worthy of a suspension if you want to crack down. Kunitz does not have a history with this so that might help him but the fact that Downie was dumb makes it tricky. I see this being a situation that either both players get a suspension or both players get nothing. I think not suspending Raffi Torres last night makes this murky. From a purely Penguins fan perspective this was incredibly dumb for Kunitz. If he is suspended this is a HUGE hit for the Penguins. We shall see. As Adam said on twitter:
So overall a really solid game for the team. This is more what I expected from this series and it was a real treat to watch. The Penguins regained home ice advantage and if they can snag a game four win on Wednesday they will be sitting pretty. It is going to hurt really bad if Kunitz is suspended, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Comrie or Tangradi better be ready if Kunitz in fact can’t go. Like I said before, buck up, going to be a wild rest of the week.