ECQF Game 1 preview: Tampa Bay Lightning (5) at Pittsburgh Penguins (4)

PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 05: Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning takes a shot against the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 5 2011 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)


WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 970 WFLA (radio) 620 WDAE (radio), (audio streaming)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Pensburgh, Let's Go Pens, The Pensblog

And so begins the second season.

Forget everything that happened the past seven months or so. It all amounts to nothing now. Everything starts at zero again. Everyone starts with promise and no one comes into the 2011 National Hockey League playoffs with the baggage of the season-that-was.

Simon Gagne's injuries and slow-scoring pace? Forget it, dismiss it. Doesn't matter now. Steven Stamkos scoring-at-will and then scoring-slump? Forget it. Over, done with. Martin St. Louis, Hart Trophy-worthy effort? Moot. Vincent Lecavalier?  Teddy Purcell?  Nate Thompson?  Victor Hedman?  Ryan Malone?  Mike Smith?  They're just guys who have coinciding shaved heads, no more, no less.

The team you knew and followed from the opening salvo in October 2010 until their grand finale in Raleigh last weekend remains the same players (well, with notable additions and subtractions). It's their personal accomplishments over that time span that you need to forget about. Don't base any expectations off what was done.

Base every expectation off what will be. Tis' the second season. And as NHL marketers love to say (and admit it, people, it's a bit of a catchy phrase), "History will be made". Hearts will be broken, titans will be crowned, and legends will be written in the achievements by the participants in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are once again part of that grand story, the playoffs. What they will write, what they will achieve, is anyone's guess. You live and you die by each success and failure. It's a moment-to-moment thing in this world, the world of the second season.

It's a chance at redemption. it's a chance to solidify your own legacy. And it's a chance to reach the ultimate glory, raise it over your head, and claim it as your own in victory.

The true quest for Lord Stanley's Cup begins now.

To live and die in the moment will be on display, if season statistics hold true, on special teams. This fact has been pounded out a few times through sources, but it's worth repeating: The Lightning, though they finished 6th in the NHL on the power play, had the #1 power play unit in the Eastern Conference during the 2010-11 regular season.

They will be facing the #1 penalty kill unit from the 2010-11 National Hockey league season in that of the Pittsburgh Penguins. For every penalized situation the Penguins faced, they snuffed-out opposing power plays 86.1% of the time. To give you the raw numbers, that's 324 short-handed situations faced and 45 goals allowed.

Oh, and they've notched 13 short-handed goals too. contrast that to the Bolts short-handed goals allowed on the power play (16) and you see Pittsburgh's advantage there.

On the flip side, Tampa Bay has killed off 83.8% of opposing power-play opportunities this season, finishing 8th in the NHL. They allowed 49 goals in 302 opponent opportunities while scoring all of one short-handed goal themselves.

Contrast that to Pittsburgh's power play, a surprisingly anemic 15.8% conversion rate and 25th int eh NHL ranking, and you see Tampa Bay has an advantage...

What does all of that mean? Special teams should be moot. If they end up that way during this series is another story all together and dependent on how diligent the two squads are during their supposed special team strengths.

Marc-Andre Fleury and Dwayne Roloson will be the starters in net for the home Penguins and visiting Lightning (respectively) tonight at CONSOL Energy Center In Pittsburgh. .

Defenseman Matt Smaby, who spent most of his time as a Black Ace during the Bolt season, is likely to be unavailable for tonight's game with a lower-body injury. Who may very well be available to the Bolts later in the series is defenseman Randy Jones, who hasn't played since March 7th after suffering a high ankle sprain.  He's more likely a scratch for game one, but he's on teh brink of returning.

I don't take Tampa Bay's recent 2-1, playoff clinching, victory over the Penguins as a measuring stick for the game, or a message-sending affair for that matter. I do expect two rested clubs to shake off a bit of rust before really going full-tilt.

The Raw Charge game thread will e open-for-business at 6 PM EDT. We'll likely be posting overflow game threads ona period-by-period basis, and we invite all hockey fans to participate. Just keep it civil.

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