No, my playoff beard is fuller, Purcell! (photo by Getty Images)

Get Ready for Game 7

Well, I predicted this series would go the full 7 games. But I didn’t think the Pens would blow a two-game lead in the process.

I knew the Pens would have trouble scoring goals. But I didn’t think they’d make Dwayne Roloson look like a freakin’ all-star.

I knew Pittsburgh’s power play would struggle. But I didn’t think it would suck to this degree (currently 1-for-30).

More importantly, I predicted the Pens would win this thing in Game 7. Now…I’m not so sure.

Make no mistake, Tampa Bay has momentum on its side going into Wednesday’s do-or-die contest. The Lightning embarrassed the Pens Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh before earning a hard-fought decision last night in Tampa. It’s not impossible to believe the Pens are starting to doubt themselves.

The Bolts are currently the better team. They’re actually scoring goals, they’re killing penalties and they’re getting good goaltending. The Pens, on the other hand, are shooting themselves in the collective foot. They simply cannot capitalize on the PP, and Marc-Andre Fleury is not playing well.

We all knew coming in to this series that the Pens’ defense, PK and goaltending had to lead the way. Unfortunately, hasn’t been the case lately. Fleury has been shaky at best the past two games and the vaunted defensive corps is losing the battles it typically won throughout the season.

Is this a case of Tampa Bay being better than advertised? We knew the Lightning had a solid group of forwards. Martin St. Louis was heroic through the first five games, but now Tampa is getting contributions from just about everybody else, which is scary. Roloson has played better than I thought he was capable of, and the Bolts penalty killing deserves at least some credit for the Pens’ PP woes.

Have the Pens hit a wall? It would be easy to say “yes” after what happened Saturday and after watching the team struggle so mightily to beat Roloson. Some thought it would only be a matter of time before the combined loss of Crosby and Malkin caught up to them. While that may be the case, this team still has enough firepower to beat Tampa. I think the more important factor is the play of the defense/goalie. The top four have to be better, and Fleury must outplay Roloson.

So, the series comes down to Game 7, where (as history has shown) just about anything can happen. The league-wide trend of road teams winning more than home teams is disturbing, but no more than the Pens current list of troubles. At this point you just have to put faith in the coaching staff and in the combined experience of the players. It’s hard to fathom this group could waste a two-game lead and lose a deciding game on home ice. It’s even harder to think the Pens could drop three straight.

That said, the Pens need better goaltending; they need to score on the power play; and they need to dictate the physical play if they want to win Game 7.

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