Power outage ends Penguins' season
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said before Wednesday night's Game 7 that special teams would dictate the outcome. His prediction was as crystal clear as his team's biggest problem.
The Penguins' inept power player again failed them, and this time, it cost them their season. Tampa Bay held on for a 1-0 victory at Consol Energy Center by killing off two third-period penalties in relatively easy fashion. The Penguins were 0 for 5 on the power play, including a failure on one in the final minute. That left them 1 for 35 for the series.
"At the end of the day," Bylsma said, "a power-play goal would have been a huge factor for us."
Tampa Bay certainly deserves some credit there.
"It's not like we just have been good on the penalty kill in this series," said Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, one of the primary penalty killers. "We were a good penalty killing team all season."
The Lightning finished the season with the NHL's eighth-best short-handed mark. Still, it seemed last night that a far lesser penalty-killing unit would have enjoyed similar success against the Penguins.
"You can always talk about doing things differently," Bylsma said. "We made several adjustments to our breakout and entry that were very good."
But not good enough. And the Lightning had a special helper: Assistant coach Wayne Fleming, who primarily works with the penalty killers but is home battling cancer, sent the team a message before the game.
"This team is as good on the penalty kill as it is because of him," Lightning forward Dominic Moore said. "(The message) meant a lot to us."
The Penguins' power-play unit, without the services of star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, never seemed to have a chance. Since Crosby left the lineup Jan. 5 with a concussion, the Penguins managed multiple power-play goals in a game only twice. One of those contests was fight night on Long Island, when the Penguins received nine power-play opportunities.
"I don't know that we really sensed that they were frustrated on the power play," said Tampa Bay forward Adam Hall, a former Penguin. "They actually did make little changes. Tonight, they tried more plays up high instead of down low, but Coach Fleming had us ready for everything."
The Penguins looked crisp during their first power play, generating good puck movement and a number of chances. From that point on, the power play declined.
Including the series against the Lightning, the Penguins without Crosby and Malkin went 3 for 88 on the power play against teams that qualified for the postseason. Last night, they kept the first and second units unchanged, with Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek running the points and Jordan Staal, James Neal and Alex Kovalev at forward for the top group.
"Special teams are an important thing in the playoffs," Bylsma said before the game.
His team found that out the hard way last night.
Penguins vs. Lightning Game 7 4/27/11
Tampa Bay defeats the Penguins, 1-0, to win Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series Wednesday April 27, 2011 at Consol Energy Center.