The question of whether good defense beats good offense has been argued over many years in professional sports.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins Eastern Conference quarterfinals series has done nothing to sway the argument one way or another.
In game 1, it was the smothering Pittsburgh defense and the stellar goaltending play of Marc-Andre Fleury that propelled the Penguins to a 3-0 shutout victory and 1-0 series lead.
Last night in game 2, the Tampa Bay Lightning used their quick strike scoring capability to jump out front 3-0 to defeat the Penguins vaunted defense and Fleury 5-1, tying the best of seven series one game apiece.
In game 1, the Lightning fired 32 shots at Fleury who stood on his head stopping them all. In game 2, the Bolts let go with just 21 but Fleury was not as sharp as he was in the opening contest and surrendered four of them.
The Bolts came right after Pittsburgh from the opening face-off. They scored on two of their first three shots. The first coming just two minutes into the game.
Trade deadline acquisition and defenseman Eric Brewer beat Fleury with a wrist shot to start a career best playoff night for the former St.Louis Blues captain. Brewer would play stellar defense in leading Tampa to their first playoff win in four years.
In addition to scoring his third career playoff goal, the veteran defenseman played almost 25 minutes, notched two assists, had three shots to match his three hits, and was a plus-two on the night.
The goal came during a four-on-four situation in which the Penguins were caught with two forwards behind the Lightning net. Pens All-Star defenseman Chris Letang pinched too far down leaving just one defender to cover Brewer and Bolts center, Nate Thompson.
The Penguins finished the regular season as the No.1 ranked penalty-killing team in the NHL. That unit did not serve Pittsburgh so well in game 2.
The Lightning scored two goals with extra man. The first coming off the stick of Lightning team captain Vinny Lecavalier.
Standing in front of Fleury, Lecavalier directed in a pass or shot (depends who you ask) off the stick of Martin St. Louis to put the Bolts ahead 2-0. The goal, which turned out to be the game winner, was the 19th of Lecavalier playoff career.
Tampa Bay would head to the dressing room ahead 3-0 after Nate Thompson notched his first ever playoff goal and he could not help but score the goal as he trailed the play.
Steve Downie skated along the right boards, he fired a shot on Fleury that deflected off the net minder’s pad and right to Thompson, who collected the rebound and saw nothing but a yawning cage. Thompson knocked the puck in as Fleury was to far out of position to recover in time.
While much of the talk, and deservedly so, surrounded Marc Andrea Fleury and his game 1 shutout, Lightning net minder Dwayne Roloson has quietly been outstanding for Guy Boucher’s squad.
Roloson turned aside 37 shots in game 1 and unlike Fleury, was just as good in game 2. Rollo turned back 35 more Penguins shots last night as he earned his 19th career playoff victory.
The 41-year-old net minder was on top of his game Friday evening. He was quick going from post-to post, making a few acrobatic saves.
He stopped Mark Letestu, who fired one from point blank range early in the middle frame. Roloson’s save on Letestu kept the momentum fully on the side of the Lightning.
The lone Pittsburgh goal was a result of bad puck handling by Roloson behind his own net. Not able to get fully back into position after whiffing on a clearing attempt, the Pens Craig Adams scooped up the loose puck and cut the lead to two.
The Adams goal would be as close as the Penguins would get as Roloson shut the door the rest of the way.
Tampa Bay would get the goal back as Martin St.Louis scored the Bolts fourth goal and second PP goal of the evening. St.Louis was playing with more than a little pain in his mouth. He took a stick in the mouth during game1 and had to endure a double root canal having the three bad teeth cemented into his mouth between games one and two.
The goal was huge for Tampa as it came with just 14 seconds left in the middle stanza. The Lightning have struggled in the third period all season and to add another marker would make the final frame a little less stessing.
Lightning head coach Guy Boucher told the media how big the goal was following the game, “That goal was big at the end of the period,” Boucher said. “It’s always big. It gives you momentum and confidence going into the dressing room.”
Following the game Martin St. Louis was asked about his motivation for playing, he responded, “My motivation is we’re down 1-0 (in games), it’s not because I lose teeth,” St. Louis said. “It’s teeth. It is not a shoulder, it’s not a knee, it’s not an ankle, its teeth. It’s the playoffs, and you have to expect to get injured.”
Including last night, the Penguins have allowed multiple power goals in just nine games this season.
The Penguins futility with the extra man continues into the post season. The Pens are 0-for-13 with the extra man through two games.
The Lightning tied a franchise record for goals in a playoff game and tied a team record with three goals in a period.
The win by Tampa was their first win at the new Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Until last night, the home team won every game in the series this season.
I predicted at the beginning of this series that the Lightning would win in six games. Nothing I saw in the first two games changes my thinking. The Penguins are struggling mightily with the puck, without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh cannot sustain any offense.
The Penguins scored goals with ease while Crosby and Malkin were healthy. When the Penguins received a power play it was almost a sure thing they would score. Now, when Pittsburgh scores a goal it seems as if they have worked the whole season for that one goal.
The Pens power play is badly broken and shows no signs of being on the mend. Pittsburgh is too good on defense not win one playoff game at home, so one had to figure they would win once or twice in this series.
The Lightning won the game they needed to win and are carrying the momentum back to the Gulf Coast of Florida for game three.
Without any offense to speak of, the style of defense the Penguins play can be tiresome this time of year and Pittsburgh looked tired in game 2. There is no Crosby there to pick them up and if Pittsburgh is not careful starting Sunday in Tampa, they may return home later next week fighting for their playoff lives.
This is now just a best of five series and the faster team has to have the advantage, especially if they are the team now with home ice. The Bolts still win this series and will still win it in six games.