The stat chart for the Lightning’s big three of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier after Game 1?
A combined 0 goals, 0 assists and a minus-5 rating as the Penguins earned a 3-0 shutout victory over Tampa Bay on Wednesday at CONSOL Energy Center.
To top it off, the trio combined for just one shot through the first 40 minutes of play.
“I think we did a pretty good job,” defenseman Zbynek Michalek
said of defending the Lightning’s offensive weapons.
That’s an understatement.
Head coach Dan Bylsma matched up Michalek and D partner Paul Martin
– both acquired in the offseason to add shutdown defensive abilities, poise and veteran leadership to an already strong Pittsburgh defense corps – against the St. Louis and Lecavalier line.
Bylsma then pitted Brooks Orpik
and Kris Letang
against Stamkos, who has scored a combined 96 goals over the past two regular seasons.
Through their trademark aggressiveness and physicality paired with smart defensive play, the Penguins’ defensemen were effectively able to limit Tampa Bay’s time and space with the puck and keep them from getting opportune scoring chances.
“You just have to limit them to a minimum and keep them on the outside,” Michalek said of Wednesday’s key to success. “They’ve got a lot of speed, they’re really skilled. They can hurt you in many ways, so we’ve got to make sure we are ready and let (Marc-Andre Fleury
) see the puck. He’s playing well.”
Fleury couldn't say enough about the play of his blueliners. But he also pointed out that, like the Penguins have done all season, Pittsburgh’s forwards contributed to the total team effort that held the trio off the scoresheet.
“(The defense) did a great job,” Fleury said. “They were playing well as a team. The forwards were coming back in the zone to help out, and the D were getting the puck out of the zone pretty quickly. I think as a team, we were doing a great job stopping them.”
There was more than one occasion where Pittsburgh’s forwards came up with a hustling backcheck or a crucial stick lift to stymie what could have been a dangerous situation.
For example, halfway through the first period the shifty St. Louis sped down the ice on a one-on-one rush with Michalek.
That’s when forward James Neal
hustled back and lifted the Lightning forward’s stick, allowing Michalek to poke the puck out of danger before St. Louis could get it into the zone.
“We were supporting each other all over the ice,” Neal said. “We came back hard and when they’re chipping pucks in like that, everyone’s got to do their job and come back and help each other out.”
Bylsma said the efficient skating ability of his blueliners plays a crucial role in playing shutdown defense. Keeping just the right amount of space between them and the forward bearing down on them is important because it keeps the forward in check and allows the Penguins forwards time to get back.
“I think the one thing our defense has been doing all year long against every situation is that we try to maintain a good gap with our D,” he said. “When you can have that situation, it’s tough to generate the time and the speed that good players need.”
The Penguins may have held the Lightning at bay for the first game of the series. But this is playoff hockey, and they know Tampa Bay’s forwards are going to come out even harder on Friday.
“We can’t let down for one second,” Bylsma said.
But Michalek assured that they plan to keep making the Lightning earn every inch.
“We’ve got to make them earn everything and go from there,” he said.