The National Hockey League Eastern Conference Finals are well under way, with two games that have already come and gone. The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning have split the first two games, with the Lightning snagging home-ice advantage in the process.
Tampa Bay was dominant for the majority of Game 1, putting the Penguins on their heels early. The pens did not regain their footing solidly until the third period, and even then, they weren’t exactly running circles around Tampa.
It was probably the worst game the Penguins have played in the playoffs, this year, and really, for a few months back into the regular season.
They just got outplayed, which is not the way you want to start a series, especially on home ice.
But, the concern in the aftermath of that game was the invisibility of the Penguins stars, namely Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Both had been relatively underwhelming in the series against Washington, with Crosby only notching two assists, and Malkin a goal and an assist.
That trend didn’t exactly stop when Game 1 rolled around.
Crosby distributed a nice assist, but other than that, he and Malkin didn’t light up the score sheet.
Entering Game 2, there was plenty reason to be concerned in, if you feel at home in Black and Gold.
If the home team loses the first two games in a series, it is historically a bad omen for said team.
Much to the chagrin of those watching in beach houses in the Tampa Bay area, Pittsburgh came out firing on all cylinders, going up 2-0 before 15 minutes had passed. But, luckily for Tampa, their backup goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, stood on his head and held the fort.
With this, the Lightning came alive and evened the score before the end of the first frame.
And then, we were right back to where we started.
Unlike a few nights before, the Penguins controlled the pace of the game, and sent a number of good chances Vasilevekiy’s way, with him coming up big each time.
This lasted until the game was 40 seconds into overtime, when Sidney Crosby buried the game winner, in the top left corner, over Vasileveskiy’s shoulder.
Pretty clutch, eh?
Well, hopefully that’s the start of another hot streak for Crosby, who’s been relatively cold since the Rangers series, at least on the stat sheet.
That has to be a little nerve-racking for the Lightning, though. As Tampa head coach Jon Cooper eluded to the other day when asked about Crosby’s dry spell, most players would kill to be in a dry spell for Sidney Crosby.
The really scary part is how good the Penguins have played, in spite of lackluster performances from their stars. Their bottom two forward lines have really carried their offense. As a matter of fact, they carried the team right past the best team from the regular season, in the Washington Capitals.
If Crosby gets hot, and Malkin follows suit, this team is incredibly worrisome for the Lighting, and if they advance, the Western Conference champions.
The old hockey adage is that if your team starts on the road and splits games, that’s a really good start for the series. Plus, when adding in outstanding goaltending, the Lightning should really feel good about their position moving forward.
But, when the team your facing has two of the top players in the world, and that team has just beat the owners of this year’s President’s Trophy without much help from those players, that can weigh on the mind.
I’ll put it this way: If the captain and his first mate really do come alive, it would be awfully hard to sink this ship.
Ernecoff is a Titusville High School graduate, currently enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also an avid Pittsburgh fan.