Before I get into the guts of the game, let me point out the Lightning will be facing the #1 seed Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference semi-final round, likely starting Friday at Verizon Center in Washington DC.
But enough of that for the extent of this recap. Lets focus on the achievement: The Lightning came back from a 3-1 series deficit and won. They are, indeed, Staying Alive:
After the jump, the recap!
Tonight's game started off just like any prize-fight of such magnitude should: a stalemate. Back and forth, back and forth... The Bolts would apply a lick of pressure and then the Penguins would return the favor. All of this with a backdrop of the white-out and towel waving Pittsburgh Penguin fans. The crowd stood and cheered with every brutal laid out by the Pens on any side of the ice.
But from this, the first period transitioned (for a time) into a strategy session where no one made in-roads into the opponents offensive zone. The Penguins faced turnover after turnover in the neutral zone and at the Lightning blueline. The Bolts? Dump-and-chase, where the "chase" was simply the Pittsburgh defense retrieving the puck.
The game turned around after Eric Brewer was called for interference with 9:37 left in the first. The Penguins turned their attack into high gear and ... well, nothing. In part because of the Lightning defense, but in greater part by Dwayne Roloson stopping the Pens time and time again. By the time the final horn sounded, Roloson had stopped 36 shots total.
The Penguins power play futility during the conference quarterfinals will haunt them through the off-season. Pittsburgh, though missing stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Matt Cooke, converted a single power play opportunity in 36 chances this series. The last one being a 6-on-4 situation in the closing seconds of the game.
The Pens went 0-6 tonight... which coincides Dan Bylsma's record closing out playoff Series' in Pittsburgh. Every series the Pens have won under his coaching has been done on the road.
While the Pens ruled the attack tonight, it was Sean Bergenheim who tallied the game's lone goal during the second period. Fed a pass by Dominik Moore who cruised behind the Pens net, Isberg shot from the right-wing and put the Bolts up for keeps.
But with the amount of time left in this contest after that goal -- just under 30 minutes of play between the 2nd and 3rd periods -- kept you on your seat and biting your nails in anticipation.
But it got nerve-wracking as you saw the Lightning content to get control of the puck and then... dump it out, without a full offensive attack behind it. Guy Boucher may have been applying strategy through this - but it drove at least this fan crazy to watch it. Pittsburgh's relentless attack continued and -- dump.
But, to restate it, in the end this all came down to the effort of Dwayne Roloson, who reminded Lightning and NHL fans exactly why he was acquired on New Years Day from the New York Islanders. As the last line of defense, Roloson refused to give the Penguins the opportunity to tie the game.
I want to applaud Marc-Andre Fleury's effort while I am at it. One goal on 23 shots tonight... Some of his saves were incredible, with the crowd in a tizzy over the effort. this may not be the way that he (nor his teammates) wants to go into the off-season, but it was a valiant effort none-the-less.
Now, the #5 seed Lightning face off against the #1 seed Washington Capitals, starting at 7PM on Friday... And they get to do whatever they can to Stay Alive all over again.