Artistry: There's a spring in my step this morning, and, candidly, I haven't looked this good since 2009. With so much uncertainty about how these NHL playoffs will unfold, Game 1 against the Lightning was as fine a beginning as anyone could have hoped for. It's like someone was orchestrating the whole thing from on high.
The tone was set on Little Stevie Stamkos's first career playoff shift. Brooks Orpik absolutely crushed him. And he didn't let up all game long. That may have been the best game I've ever seen Orpik play.
Finesse: But even with that hit, the Lightning were the better team in the first period. They definitely established a "net-front presence" early - I'm talking about you, Ryan Malone - which led to seemingly unlimited shots from the point as the Pens were forced to collapse around the net. Thank God for MAF. I thought the Lightning's early pressure really took the Consol crowd out of the game, although that's proven pretty easy to do this year. Not even Steiggy's insistence that it was the loudest the building had ever been could have convinced me that the crowd was a factor.
Artistry: A lot of icing early on, and it did feel like a Devils game in 1995 for about 10 minutes there.
Finesse: I think maybe the refs listened to the podcast, as they inexplicably allowed the Pens to get away with maybe 3 or 4 high sticking penalties. No chance that the Pens have a 6-1 advantage in power play opportunities in Game 2. Other than the goals, what do you think was the biggest moment in the game?
Artistry: The play of the game happened early in the second. Vinnie Lecavalier reminded us why, not too long ago, people called him the Michael Jordan of hockey. And Fleury reminded us that Michael Jordan is now wearing a bad mustache and doing t-shirt commercials.
Finesse: I'd imagine that the Tampa big guns would be taking some heat from the intense Tampa Bay media about putting up a goose egg in Game 1, you know, if anyone in Tampa cared. But they don't. Despite Fleury stonewalling the Stamkos, St. Louis, and Lecavalier trio, I remain completely terrified of them. Such is the nature of the playoffs - every time the other team has the puck, I get nervous. I'm even nervous when we are on the PP, which, much to my surprise, actually looked relevant at times.
Artistry: The Pens power play finally started to generate pressure in the second. Staal was everywhere. Michalek was just pumping shots on net from the point. I'd like to see Letang just put some pucks on net. He's not even a threat to shoot out there. And we've got to better utilize Neal with the man advantage. A lot of getting open for a one-timer is about instinct - not everybody has it - but he may need to be coached up a bit on finding the soft spot in the high slot. Talk to Kevin Stevens. I think he's available.
Finesse: I believe that if ROOT sports wanted to run a weekly special on the '91 and '92 Pens, literally every single player on those teams would be available to do interviews, except for maybe Tom Barasso. And I exclude him not just because he is a jerk, but because he's jealous he didn't make "The Save." Back to the present. The Pens were buzzing like bees around a hive late in the second period. I think Tampa iced the puck 11 times in 30 seconds. And when Kovy finally broke through in the 3rd, was anyone surprised? He's a cold-blooded playoff assassin.
Artistry: This is not a matter of perception. It's a fact. Kovy raises his game in the playoffs. Coming into the series, he averaged .79 points-per-game in the regular season and upped that to .85 ppg in the post-season. By comparison, Mario Lemieux averaged 1.88 ppg in the regular season and 1.58 ppg in the playoffs (still staggering, I know). Sid's comparables are 1.39 and 1.32. It is ridiculously hard to increase your productivity in the playoffs, unless you are an ultra-clutch role player named Max Talbot (.28 ppg in the regular season, .5 ppg in the playoffs).
Finesse: This team is loaded with playoff performers, even with Sid and Geno missing - Cooke, Rupp, Adams, Staal, and even Arron Asham. Asham was a negligible factor during the regular season in the same way the Pirates are a negligible factor in the pennant race. But he's the exact type of guy who when matched up against another team's third pairing, can lull them into a sense of complacency with his ineffectiveness, and then BAM! He's going coast-to-coast. Speaking of defenseman you don't want out there in the third period of a tight playoff game, the Pens' third-pairing of Lovejoy and Niskanen was a little shaky, no? I'd like to see a little more of a mean streak from those guys.
Artistry: They certainly had us holding our breath on a few shifts, but overall they were adequate and generally got the puck up ice quickly. Now that they have a game under their belts, they will be better. And our team defense once we got the lead was almost - I hate to compliment them like this, but it's true - Red Wing-esque. St. Louis tried to carry the puck over the blue line at one point in the third, and we had three guys, perfectly spaced, surrounding him.
Finesse: It was a great night for the Pens, but let's remember -- it was only one night. As hall of fame Bachelor Brad Womack would say, the playoffs are a journey, and this is only Step 1. Lots of work to do.