For 46:05 of game one between the Penguins and Lightning, the game went exactly as expected. A closely-contested match-up between two teams that feature opportunistic offenses and spectacular goaltending, provided heavy hits, glorious scoring chances, and breathtaking saves.
And then it happened.
Paul Martin deftly back-handed the puck to James Neal near the offensive blue-line. Neal slap-passed to Alex Kovalev, perched on the doorstep, who finally slid one past Dwayne Roloson. Roloson finished with 37 saves, including 18 in an onslaught of a second period, but was rendered helpless when Ray Shero’s mid-season acquisitions combined to break the ice.
Tampa Bay, playing its first playoff game in four years, looked rattled and allowed an Aaron Asham goal just 18 seconds later that put Pittsburgh in command. Chris Kunitz added an empty-netter for the 3-0 final.
Although the Pens provided ample offense, Marc-Andre Fleury was once again the best player in the Consol Energy Center. In earning his fifth career post-season shutout, Fleury made 32 saves and was calm in the face of adversity all evening.
The Pens top defensive unit of Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang were exceptional. Not only did they do a great job when matching up with Tampa’s top line, but the duo finished +2. Letang, a stalwart on the power play point position, logged a game-high 27:19 on the ice.
It wasn’t a perfect victory for the Pens as the power play unit was 0-for-6. The Lightning, who showed a lack of composure on a few occasions in taking penalties, was 0-for-1 on the power play.
The Penguins carried the play for most of the night, exerted their style of game, owning most of the possession. They didn’t dominate as they had against the Bolts in Consol during the regular season, but it was a convincing effort.
Game two will be contested Friday night at 7 p.m.