The eyes of the hockey world fall upon two unresolved Eastern Conference quarterfinal contests tonight. One game pits bitter, original-six rivals who have long done battle. The other features a marquee franchise of this National Hockey League and oft-dismissed Sunbelt franchise with dreams of national and international recognition all of its own.
A "World Class Organization," as proclaimed by the great sage and Tampa Bay Lightning franchise savior Jeffrey Vinik.
The Lightning have escaped a mire that it has struggled through since the beginning of the 2007-2008 contest. After four long years, the franchise returned to the playoffs. This you should know by now.
What's also gone with this first-round playoff series, besides a re-emergence into respectability, is the fact the contest has been one of the more memorable ones in the Lightning's scant six playoff appearance history over it's 18 years in the NHL (1995-96, 2002-03, 2003-04, 2005-06, 2006-07, 2010-11).
This is only the third time in team history the Bolts have gone to seven-games in a playoff series. The last two came in the Eastern Conference finals and Stanley Cup finals in the magical season of 2003-04.
Will the Lightning go 3-0 in game seven's? Or will Dan Bylsma, head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, finally close out a playoff series at home with a win?
We'll find out soon enough, but for the moment - the wait will be torture.
Going into this series, I noted in the game 1 preview that the Lightning had the top power play in the Eastern Conference, while the Penguins had the top penalty kill in the Eastern Conference during the 2010-11 campaign.
You've seen and heard that the Penguins have not been living up to their part of the bargain, statistically, on special teams. The Pens have scored all of one goal in 30 opportunities during the playoffs, a 3.3% conversion rate. Their vaulted penalty kill (and it has had its moments during this series) is 68.0% effective. 25 Lightning power play opportunities, with 8 goals allowed to the Bolts.
But it's a one-game series now. Much like I wrote in the game one preview - everything that has happened is moot. Unless, the psychological seeds of doubt or overconfidence have been planted. Neither team right now can afford hubris just as neither can afford self-doubt.
It looks like The-eyes-have-it-Gate is going to drift away with the breeze. Steven Stamkos only comment regarding his incident with Brooks Orpik is that it was the heat-of-the-moment. Steve Yzerman's answers stated faith in the league in handling things if they see something wrong.
Faith that NHL fans largely do not have in league disciplinary matters, and we take as code that the league shrugged in response.
The Bolts have gone with the 11/7 lineup makeup the past two games, and I fully assume we'll see it again tonight. If Marc-Andre Bergeron or Randy Jones plays as the seventh defenseman instead remains to be seen. It will most likely be Bergeron though.
Let me give a quick aside here to television coverage of game six and game seven:
I'm not exactly sure who experienced the issue like I had on Monday evening, but Bright House Networks cable customers in the Tampa Bay area only saw a black screen instead of the High Definition station for Sun Sports and Fox Sports Florida. The standard definition channel worked fine, however.
The HD station blackout was resolved during game play. I just want to stress that the game was not outright "blacked out" as some readers have asked about.
The only cable "blackout" of the game, and game seven, is the national broadcast of the game. The Tampa Bay market (and the Pittsburgh market) cannot view the Versus television feed of the game.
One last note: We attached a now-closed poll asking how many games this series will go. Of the over 200 respondents, 35 of you expected 7 games.
Tampa Bay Lightning (5) versus Pittsburgh Penguins (4): Predict the Winner
Pittsburgh in 4 games (12 votes)
Tampa Bay in 4 games (1 vote)
Pittsburgh in 5 games (30 votes)
Tampa Bay in 5 games (8 votes)
Pittsburgh in 6 games (54 votes)
Tampa Bay in 6 games (62 votes)
Pittsburgh in 7 games (6 votes)
Tampa Bay in 7 games (29 votes)
202 total votes