Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were deserving of not only of their Game Seven win, but also of series triumph. The Pens entered the Eastern Conference Final as the NHL’s hottest team, having won 22 of their previous 27 games. Clicking on all cylinders, they look like a locomotive train zooming down the track at full speed. Before winning this series, the Penguins easily dispatched of the New York Rangers in the first round, then knocked off the President Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in the second round. My point is that they are a team on a major roll and the Lightning, despite winning three games from the Pens, weren’t able to stop them.
Over the first six games of the series, there was a difference between the three Pittsburgh wins and three Lightning triumphs. In the Pittsburgh victories, the Pens were decisively the better team. They badly outshot and outchanced the Lightning. They enjoyed a huge advantage in puck possession, thereby limiting the amount of time the Lightning went on the attack. (The one exception was the third period of Game Six, a frame in which the Bolts posted 19 shots and netted two goals, but the Penguins owned the first two periods in Game Six and built a 3-0 lead). On the other hand, in the three Lightning wins, the games were more evenly played. I know the Penguins outshot the Lightning in those three games as well, but the shot advantage wasn’t reflective of flow of play.
Unfortunately for the Lightning, Game Seven followed the script of the three other Pittsburgh wins. The Lightning were badly outshot and outchanced. As was the case in the other three losses, Andrei Vasilevskiy did his best to keep the score close. He made 37 saves in Game Seven, holding the Penguins to just two goals. But the Lightning had a hard time generating many chances on Matt Murray and, for the first time in the series, didn’t score two goals or more.
The first period was a close checking frame, as both teams had a hard time finding time and space to operate. As the period progressed, though, the Penguins began applying more consistent pressure. That carried over into the second, the period in which Pittsburgh took over the game. Bryan Rust scored off the rush at 1:55, giving Pittsburgh the lead and momentum. The Penguins kept that momentum throughout the period, even after Jonathan Drouin tied the score at 9:36. Rust tallied his second goal on the next shift, preventing the Lightning from gaining any momentum. A tough goal against for Vasilevskiy, who tried to cover the puck when it bounced off the end boards. But it slipped under his glove and Rust jammed it under Vasilevskiy’s left arm.
In the period, the Pens outshot the Lightning, 21-5. If not for Vasilevskiy, the Lightning might have been down by multiple goals. Instead, the deficit was just 2-1. And in the third, the Lightning did push back. They spent more time in the offensive zone and forced pucks to the front of the net. But the Penguins not only attacked effectively in Game Seven, they also defended well. They blocked 17 Lightning shots (equaling the Lightning’s shot total for the entire game) – many of those blocks came in the third period.
So the Penguins earned this game – and the series. Good luck to them in the Final against a San Jose team that appears to be on a equally major roll.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Rust’s first goal, which set the tone for Pittsburgh’s dominant second period.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Bryan Rust – Penguins. Two goals.
2.Evgeni Malkin – Penguins. Two assists.
3.Andrei Vasilevskiy – Lightning. 37 saves.