PITTSBURGH -- Following the Tampa Bay Lightning's 1-0 victory against the Penguins in Game 7 of their conference quarterfinal series, coach Guy Boucher sat at a podium and discussed all of the players who contributed to the series-clinching victory.
He had praise for Sean Bergenheim, who scored the only goal of the game. He spoke highly of goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who capped an outstanding series with 36 saves.
When no one else at the press conference had any further questions, Boucher didn't stand up and exit stage left. Instead, he spoke about the person who he felt was most instrumental in the Lightning overcoming a 3-1 series deficit and advancing to the Eastern Conference Semifinals to face the top-seeded Washington Capitals, starting Friday.
"We dedicated the series and this game today to somebody that's had a terrific impact on our team, who's taking care of our penalty kill, and that's Wayne Fleming," Boucher said, referring to the team's 60-year-old assistant who was diagnosed with a brain tumor three weeks ago. "He was taking care of the penalty kill. The players really felt for him and one of the reasons why we won this series was because of our penalty kill. He deserves a lot of the credit."
Fleming didn't travel with the team for Games 1 and 2 of this series, but he's been in contact with players. It paid off in a major way.
The Lightning killed off 34 of 35 power plays in the series, including one during the final 1:33 of the third period to preserve the victory.
"He's battling hard," said Dominic Moore, who assisted on Bergenheim's goal and logged 3:28 of shorthanded ice time per game in the series. "One thing about Flemer is he has a passion for the game, and there's nothing he'd rather do than be here and we really appreciate him fighting. The penalty kill is so important in this series, and he's probably the biggest reason. He prepared us all season long, and we credit him for that."
Experience wasn't on the side of the Lightning entering Wednesday. The Penguins entered the game as the team with far more familiarity playing in Game 7s, boasting 57 games worth of experience on their roster compared to the Lightning's 21.
But Boucher and many of the Lightning players stood fast to the idea that by facing elimination and coming through with wins in Games 5 and 6, they were plenty prepared for the intensity and pressure of a Game 7.
They were right.
"We had to learn fast," Boucher said. "We had a lot of guys with no experience in the playoffs, basically half our team. We're playing an experienced team that knows how to win the battles very hard that has a terrific goaltender that has solid, defensive structured play. We knew it was going to be extremely hard.
"And our young guys were nervous to start. Basically, they learned to execute under pressure. As the series went on, they got stronger and stronger in terms of confidence. They were less nervous in our zone. When you're trailing 3-1, we kind of knew the second game at home we lost in overtime, we found our team had gotten a lot better, a lot stronger mentally, and it showed the games after that."
The Lightning were able to settle down in large part to the play of Roloson during a first period that saw the Penguins hold a 15-7 edge in shots. He made his best save at the 6:11 mark when he flashed his blocker on a Jordan Staal shot.
It was just another terrific performance from the 41-year-old, who posted the best save percentage (.949) and second-best goals-against average (1.77) in the first round.
"He was our MVP," Steven Stamkos said. "He was clutch when we needed him. The numbers he put up were ridiculous. Our penalty kill is ultimately what won us this series, and he was our best penalty killer. Words can't express how much he meant to us in this series."
"We can talk every day, but I need to get some new words," Boucher said when asked if there's anything left he can say about Roloson's play in the series. "He's been terrific for us leadership-wise and was one of the reasons why our second half was very good defensively. He's got a lot of insight from what he's seen over the years in moments like this. Coming up with a shutout, the last game, you can't ask for better."
"Obviously our offense wasn't there," Staal said. "We got a lot of shots, battled hard but it wasn’t our night. We had a lot of chances (on the power play), it just wouldn’t go in for us."
The Lightning were able to beat goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who was sharp in making 22 saves, with the exact play they used to score against him in Game 6.
Moore carried the puck behind the net, forcing Fleury to guard the post to his right. Moore spun and whipped a pass to Bergenheim at the opposite post for an easy shot into a half-empty net to make it 1-0 at 5:41 of the second period.
Bergenheim said afterward that was a play the Lightning felt would work against Fleury.
"That was something we knew that we could get them a few times," Bergenheim said. "I'm not sure if it's going to be there against Washington, but it was something for this series. I think we had two very important goals that way."
"The entire team practices it," Boucher said. "They're just better at it, I guess."
The Lightning will have less than two days to enjoy their first playoff series victory since 2004, when they won the Stanley Cup. It's been a learning experience for many of their players. They key now is to continue growing and learning about what playoff hockey is all about.
"Until you experience the playoffs first-hand, you don't know what it's all about," Stamkos said. "It's a little bit more than what I was expecting with level of play, pace, sacrifice, what you have to do to win. I think we all learned that pretty quickly. Especially being down 3-1, it was a bit of a wake-up call. We answered the bell and we all learned from it."