Who And What Are The Keys To The Series?


Less than 24 hours remain until the 2011 NHL Playoffs get underway.   Fans of the 16 competing teams are beside themselves with excitement.

The Pens and Lightning begin what is commonly believed to be the closest match-up in round one at 7 p.m. Wednesday night.  The best-of-seven series will be hotly-contested with little room for error.

What will it take to advance? The following is Pens Labyrinth’s reasons that will decide the outcome.

What it will take to be smiling in the post-series handshake line:

1. Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins’ starting goalie might not have the startling stats of other goalies.  His 2.32 goals against average is seventh among playoff-bound starting netminders. His .918 save percentage is 10th among the same group.  However, numbers don’t tell the whole story.  Fleury has won a Stanley Cup. Fleury literally saved this team when its superstars went down.  The Flower’s consistency will be paramount to the Pens’ march through the playoffs.
2. Secondary Scoring. It could be said that without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, all Pittsburgh goals come from “secondary scorers.”  However, the new-look Pens will need Pascal Dupuis (17), Mark Letestu (14), and Mike Rupp (9) to sign the scoresheet against Tampa Bay’s trapping defense.
3. Penalty Kill Remains Strong. Pittsburgh’s success on the penalty kill was well documented throughout the season.  The Pens finished atop the NHL with an 86.1 percentage.  The aforementioned Fleury was HUGE in the effort, but the defensemen and defensive forwards have been stellar.  Moreover, the Pens tied for second in the league with 13 short-handed goals.
4. Home Ice Advantage. Mandy pundits, including the P-Lab, have predicted this series will go a full seven.  Each team won both contests on home ice during the regular season.  If these two face-off in game seven, the Pens will be much more comfortable in Consol than the Sunshine State.

What happened if Penguin Nation angrily turns off their tv sets following the final horn:

1. Power Play Stays In Hibernation. The 25th-ranked power play (15.8%) in the NHL belonged to the Pittsburgh Penguins.  It is amazing to think that a team that finished with 103 points, three shy of tops in the Eastern Conference, could have been so inept when playing with a man-advantage.  The expectations and possibilities of special teams are heightened in the playoffs.  If the men mentioned in #3 of this list don’t contribute, the power play will continue to staal.
2. Power Outage. The Pens finished a respectable 13th in the NHL with a 2.78 goals per game average, but red lights become harder to come by in the playoffs.  Double that tightness when facing the 1-3-1 zone of Tampa Bay.  Lacking Crosby and Malkin, the Pens’ offense has to be balanced and any slump will be disastrous.
3. Shero’s Mid-Season Acquisitions Stay Quiet. In his time with Dallas this season, James Neal scored in every 2.75 games (21 goals in 59 games).  In his 20 games in black & gold, Neal has just one goal for a 0.05 gpg average.  He also had five power play goals and three game winners with the Stars this year.  He is still at 0 with the Pens (couple shootout goals have come in handy!)  Alex Kovalev scored in every 3.85 games with Ottawa this year (14 goals in 54 games) but his two goals in 20 games with the Pens falls far behind that average.  Both players have the skill – and desire – but results matter, never more than in the playoffs.
4. Martin St. Louis. He is 35 years old.  He stands just 5 feet, 8 inches.  He shares time with offensive stalwarts Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos.  Yet it is Martin St. Louis who led the Lightning and ranked second in the NHL with 99 points and 68 assists.  The winger played all 82 games at top speed.   St. Louis had at least one point in three of four games against the Pens this year, scoring three goals, tallying two assists and being a genuine pest 100 percent of his time on the ice.