Skip to main content
column

Penguins' speed overwhelms Lightning again

Pittsburgh's quickness too much for Tampa Bay in Game 3

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

TAMPA -- Speed that fuels dominance from the Pittsburgh Penguins. This shouldn't be surprising anymore.

It certainly isn't to the Penguins players and coaches, who are so confident in their speed game and what it is doing to the opponent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that they feel the only way they can lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final is if they beat themselves.

They may not be wrong; the evidence from the past two games, especially from their 4-2 win in Game 3 at Amalie Arena on Wednesday, is overwhelmingly in their favor.

The Lightning can't keep up. The Penguins won't let them. It's that simple.

"That's what we talked about since we started the playoffs, that our worst enemy is ourselves," Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said shortly after Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series. "If we don't use our best asset, which is our speed, teams will make us pay. That's a key. That's our game plan. And as well as we can play with that game plan, I think the only way we can mess up is to make turnovers, play an East-West game, get fancy."

Video: Sullivan on impact of HBK line, Game 3 victory

Even with all the elite skill they have, there is nothing fancy about the Penguins or their game plan. They can beat you on the counterattack with their speed or wear you down on a cycle by playing and thinking quick.

They roll four lines and three defense pairs that all have the same philosophy -- get the puck and go; if you don't have it, get aggressive, check it back, get it and go.

They feel the same about a line that features Sidney Crosby as one that features Matt Cullen.

"If every line is playing really similar and every 'D' pairing that's out there knows we want to play fast and kind of hold everyone to that standard, it helps a lot," Crosby said.

The New York Rangers found out the hard way in the Eastern Conference First Round and lost the series in five games. The Washington Capitals couldn't keep up in the second round and lost in six.

The way the Penguins have thoroughly dominated the Lighting the past two games, it makes you wonder if this conference final is going to stretch beyond five games. It's hard now to think of a way that it will considering what we've seen so far.

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm3: Kessel doubles lead on Bonino's dish

The Penguins out-shot the Lightning 48-28 in Game 3 after out-shooting them 41-21 in Game 2 and 35-20 in Game 1, which Tampa Bay won by being opportunistic instead of being better. Add it up, and it's a 124-69 shots advantage for Pittsburgh; that's almost 2-to-1. That's significant.

"If you get enough shots, sooner or later it's going to go in," Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin said. "We keep throwing pucks at the net we're going to create chances. It might not go in on the first shot or the 10th shot, but sooner or later it's going to go in."

Hagelin is right; the Penguins haven't defeated the Lightning the past two games by making them laughers early. Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is the reason why, and the only reason why.

Even when the Penguins were up 2-0 in the first period of Game 2, it felt like it could have been 5-0. Vasilevskiy was the difference. When it was still 0-0 late in the second period of Game 3, Vasilevskiy was to blame, or thank, depending on the side you're on in this series.

He stopped the first 29 shots he faced -- in 37 and a half minutes. Penguins goalie Matt Murray faced 28 shots the entire game.

Video: Murray talks to the media after Game 3

But if you keep peppering even a hot goalie and you keep getting some Grade-A looks, keep forcing the opposition into turnovers the way the Penguins have done in Games 2 and 3, the dam is bound to break.

It finally did for the Penguins in overtime of Game 2, when Crosby scored 40 seconds in because of a dominant shift that led to a quick counterattack chance and a great shot. That sequence came after they thoroughly dominated the third period.

It broke again for the Penguins late in the second period of Game 3. Again, it happened because of a counterattack chance created by the Penguins' speed.

This time it was Phil Kessel, who has been brilliant all postseason long, racing down the right side, firing a shot at Vasilevskiy with Hagelin using his speed to dart down the middle. Vasilevskiy made the save, his 30th of the game, but the rebound popped out to Hagelin, who put it in 10 seconds before the intermission.

Those were the 20th and 21st shots the Penguins had in the second period; their 30th and 31st shots of the game.

Video: Kessel talks to to the media after Game 3

"You see a second period like that, where we generate a lot of chances and we play with a lot of speed, to be able to do that, every line has to be able to go out and do that, and that's what we did here tonight," Crosby said. "That's the way we know we have success."

The goals kept coming in the third period. One from Kessel, his seventh of the playoffs. One from Crosby on a 4-on-3 power play. Another from Chris Kunitz.

The Lightning scored twice after coach Jon Cooper reunited his "Triplets" line, but the team that dominated rightfully won to take a lead in the series that seems to be bigger than 2-1 because the past two games haven't been close, other than on the scoreboard.

As long as the Penguins don't stray from what is obviously working for them, it's hard to envision a scenario that has the Lightning winning this series.

"If you look at our team, the assets that we have, the speed comes out big," Letang said. "The key is just playing with that."

View More