To borrow a refrain from an old Sam Cooke tune, “Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This.” And so it was for the Penguins in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series with Tampa Bay. Playing before another packed house at CONSOL Energy Center, the Pens out-shot the Lightning (36-21), out-hit them (36-27) and, for good measure, won the faceoff battle. But the Bolts prevailed where it mattered most–on the scoreboard.
Determined to take command of the series, the Penguins picked up right where they left off in the opening minute of play. Tyler Kennedy gathered up a loose puck in the left faceoff circle and snapped off a sizzling shot, but was denied by Dwayne Roloson. Moments later Kris Letang made an ill-advised pinch during 4-on-4 action and the Lightning took full advantage. Eric Brewer, who earned the game’s No. 1 star, swooped into the Pens’ end on an odd-man break and beat Marc-Andre Fleury high to the glove side.
The opportunistic Lightning continued to feast on the Penguins’ misfortune. With Jordan Staal serving a boarding minor, Brewer flagged down Max Talbot’s clearing attempt to keep the play alive. Simon Gagne pushed the puck to Vincent Lecavalier, who banged the rubber by Fleury from the doorstep at 6:53.
Late in the period the ubiquitous Brewer nudged the puck past Paul Martin in the neutral zone to Steve Downie, who was flying down the wing. Taking the pass in full stride, the ex-Flyer ripped off a hard shot that Fleury kicked aside. Nate Thompson scooped up the rebound and blasted the puck into a yawning net to stake the visitors to a 3-0 lead.
“We kind of left Fleury out to dry,” Brooks Orpik said afterward.
In stark contrast to the series opener, the bounces didn’t go the Pens’ way until midway through the contest, when they capitalized on a rare Roloson miscue. The veteran goalie ventured from his net to corral a Mike Rupp dump in, but the puck hopped off his stick and into the no-play zone. Arron Asham pounced on the loose disc and slipped a pass to Craig Adams, who punched the puck past Roloson from the edge of the crease.
The Penguins suddenly found their rhythm. With eight minutes left in the second period, Mark Letestu rang a backhander off the post. Later in the frame “Tester” narrowly missed from the right circle, while Staal fanned on a glorious chance from point-blank range.
Unfortunately, Orpik was whistled off for cross-checking in the final minute, and “Lightning” struck again. Slippery Martin St. Louis, on the mend from root-canal surgery, whipped off a shot along the goal line that deflected off a sliding Martin and past Fleury on the short side.
The goal took the starch out of the Pens, who nonetheless continued to press the attack in the final period (14 shots). Tampa Bay defender Mattias Ohlund scored into an empty net at 17:55 to apply the finishing stroke to a resounding 5-1 victory.
“We have to be much better to think we’re going to have a chance to have success,” noted Pens coach Dan Bylsma.
The Lightning won the special teams battle, converting on 2 of 6 power plays … The Pens’ punchless power play (0-7) struggled once again … Mark Letestu fired off a game-high seven shots … Fleury allowed four goals on 20 shots … Zbynek Michalek topped the Pens in ice time (25:20) … The Pens have a series record of 8-11 when they lose Game 2.
The series resumes Monday night, when the Penguins travel to “the Sunshine State” to take on the Bolts at the St. Pete Times Forum.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and colorful history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more. A must have for any true Penguins fan.