The Penguins are in the driver’s seat in their first round Stanley Cup playoff series against Tampa. But some questions still hang over Game Five as Pittsburgh enters Consol Energy Center (Saturday, 12:00pm) with a 3-1 series lead. Here are five things to look out for heading into Game Five:
1. The forward line-up: Chris Kunitz will be back. And his all-around game at wing will be a welcomed addition. But who sits? It probably won’t be anyone from the Asham-Adams-Rupp line with the way that line is playing. So look for either Eric Tangradi or Chris Conner to be scratched.
Clearly Penguin management is intrigued by Tangradi’s size and upside. And he did provide a nice screen on Tyler Kennedy’s power play goal. So, especially on the man-up unit, Tangradi may reap more rewards. But if Kunitz is back, Tangradi may not get on the power play at all.
Plus, the coaching staff still loves Conner’s speed and hustle even if he isn’t scoring. They also think he’s a good fit with Max Talbot and Pascal Dupuis. Dan Bylsma says it’s a game time decision. But look for Conner to dress until Matt Cooke returns. And look for Tangradi to return to the press box….unless the team’s curiosity to peak at Tangradi in a pressure situation is too much to resist.
2. The last defensive pairing: Penguin fans are killing Matt Niskanen and Ben Lovejoy. Absence has made the heart grow fonder for Deryk Engelland too. And if there has been a negative point to dwell on for talk show callers in this series, it’s been a demand to get Engelland back in the line-up for either Niskanen or Lovejoy. If one of those two is going to get benched, it should be Niskanen.
Lovejoy can at least boast six points in his last eight games. Niskanen can only boast four points since the Penguins acquired him. And he got pushed around by an even smaller player (Martin St. Louis) in a crucial situation in game four.
Engelland has played just 30 minutes of ice time since March 25th. But he improved greatly this season in both the offensive and defensive ends this year. His size, toughness, and grit may come in handy towards the end of this series. And those qualities definitely would help if Pittsburgh winds up drawing Philadelphia in round two.
I’d bench Niskanen for Engelland just to see if he pairs better with Lovejoy for at least a game. But coach Bylsma is usually loathed to make changes like that to the line-up after a post season win.
3. Defending Martin St. Louis: Ok, this may not happen. Hey, it hasn’t since Game One. He has four goals and two assists since then. And that’s not to mention numerous other scoring chances.
One theory is that Pittsburgh should get more physical with St. Louis. But Bylsma warned that if the Pens do that, they can’t be undisciplined and take penalties. Byslma also pointed out how hard it is to take a run at St. Louis even within the rules.
“With his speed and agility and battle level, it’s tough to go out of your way to be physical because he’ll go by you in a second. He’s extremely strong on the puck as well. And he can win battles at the net. He may be small in stature. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t be physical,“ says Bylsma.
St. Louis is fast becoming this year’s Mike Cammalleri. The difference should be that the Lightning won’t win this series. And Cammalleri’s Canadiens did upset the Pens. So long as Steve Stamkos continues to struggle, Ryan Malone remains injured, and Marc Andre leery keeps robbing Vincent Lecavalier…that won’t happen.
4. How many more times will the Penguins get whistled on bad calls for running into Dwayne Roloson?: Both Alex Kovalev and James Neal have been busted for that infraction. Neither deserved it. They were clearly cross checked into the Tampa goalie. But the Pens forwards got whistled anyway.
“It’s like the offensive player is on a diving board, and he gets checked, and he just falls into the goalie because he can‘t stop himself. And the ref just doesn’t see the guy getting pushed because he’s on the other side of the net,“ explained Bylsma.
Meanwhile, on Tampa’s game tying goal, bodies were checked into Fleury without a call. Bylsma was politically correct in his assessment of the officiating of this topic, claiming it’s a hard call for the ref to see. But expect him to lobby a little harder if a similar situation develops in Game Five or beyond now that a trend has developed.
5. Will the Penguins give momentum away with another bad first period like they did in Game Two?: They better not. The first twenty minutes of Game Two is all that is standing between Tampa’s slim lifeline and the series already being over.
Pittsburgh may not have bought into the hype surrounding this series being a cakewalk in advance. But it sure looked that way after Game One’s shutout. The Penguins came out flat last Friday night. Tampa steamrolled them before the first intermission. Bylsma promised to address the threat of a relapse tomorrow in practice now that his team is up two games.
He already got that message out there through the media in Thursday’s press conference “In Game Two we lost focus and lost an opportunity to go up 2-0. We learned from that situation. We learned what we didn’t do well in Game Two. We’ve talked about that for 3 and 4. We’ll certainly talk about that again going into Game Five. This is a seven game series. They were very good in Game Two. There is not a person in our room who thinks this is over or this is going to be easy.”