2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – First Round Series Preview
Eastern Conference - (5) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (4) Pittsburgh Penguins
The infirmary is getting in the way of Lord Stanley for the Eastern Conference team that’s dominated the discussion over the past four years in the world of hockey.
The Pittsburgh Penguins made two straight Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009 and were looking like a strong favorite to pull off an Eastern Conference three-peat last spring until the Montreal Canadiens stunned them in the second round of the playoffs. With a mix of superstars and grinders, the Pens took hold of the NHL and very nearly played into June for a third consecutive season. Now, though, the outlook is different and diminished for a team that’s going to have to muddle through – at least in round one –without its iconic captain.
If Pittsburgh was fully healthy this series would be a pleasant prospect for the Penguins, but without two superstars in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin plus the absence of other bodies on their roster, this series is an even-steven proposition, at least on paper. The consensus is that this series will come down to coaching, given the evident need to make the most out of spare parts and piece together a winning formula from less-than-ideal lineup combinations. Making this situation all the more compelling is the notion that there might not be two better young coaches in the game than the ones in this best-of-seven battle.
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Dan Bylsma has done great things for the Penguins this season when Crosby and Malkin went down with injuries and could easily win the Jack Adams award, which is given to the best coach in the league. On the other bench stands Lightning leader Guy Boucher, who has more than impressed as a first year head coach for General Manager Steve Yzerman. With that having been noted, it doesn’t hurt to have the talents of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier on your side. Nevertheless, Boucher had to deal with goaltending problems until Dwayne Roloson was traded to the Lightning from the New York Islanders in January, stabilizing the team at its weakest point and giving the Bolts the playoff-savvy netminding they so profoundly needed. Roloson led Edmonton to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals and has been a steady presence in goal over the past several years in the NHL.
In terms of depth it looks like Tampa Bay would advance to the second round, but the Lightning haven’t been to this stage with all of their young talent while this is familiar territory for the Penguins. Yes, Tampa Bay owns some seasoned hands from the franchise’s 2004 Stanley Cup title, with St. Louis and Lecavalier holding the fort even then, but this will be Stamkos’s maiden voyage in the NHL postseason, and the newness of the moment could be an impediment for the number-five seed. This is really a coin-flip series. We’ll see which team finds the right lines and the winning formulas in a highly-intriguing matchup.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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