During the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, there were more plot twists than a Stephen King novel. An injury-ravaged Penguins team, spectacular performances by impact players, incredible moments by obscure role players—and a Game 7 victory.
This was the second year in a row that the Tampa Bay Lightning were attempting to reach the Stanley Cup Final. Injuries to Ben Bishop, Anton Stralman, and Steven Stamkos hampered the squad throughout the series.
There haven’t been any playoff appearances for Pittsburgh since they won the Cup in 2009, which was their second straight year of playoff appearances (2008 and 2009). When Trevor Daley was out, the team relied on a strong forward group and big minutes from Kris Letang to get through the tough times.
In addition to seven thrilling games, the series provided fans with a multitude of memorable plays. Pittsburgh has advanced to the championship game, while Tampa Bay has been eliminated.
Take a look at our findings over the past 10 days and some questions for both teams going forward.
There is no Rest for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kris Letang is a Professional Ice Hockey Player.
Pittsburgh had an excellent forward line but a questionable defence prior to the Daley injury. Thanks to a healthy Kris Letang, the Penguins are able to use their best two-way player.
He averaged about 29 minutes per game in the playoffs, playing nearly 28 minutes every night in the series against Tampa Bay.
Among defensemen still in the playoffs, he is the league’s leading postseason ice timer.
That Letang is getting a lot of ice time at even strength and on both special teams is a measure to his worth.
In terms of his significance, he can be compared to the other right-handed Penguins defenders. Weighing in at a whopping 28:46 minutes a game, Letang dwarfs Ben Lovejoy’s average of 16:57 minutes and Justin Schultz (13:03).
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are two of the most vital players on the club, but with the loss of Daley and the lack of depth on defence, Letang is the most crucial player at this point.
Drouin, the Rising Star of the Tampa Bay Lightning, is on the Roster.
No one would believe your story about Jonathan Drouin’s career if you wrote it. The National Post’s Michael Traikos reported on the case of a disappointed young man who asked for a trade towards the end of January.
He’s since returned to the club, forced his way into the lineup, and emerged as a legitimate postseason force.
He had four goals and four assists in the series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Tampa Bay was given new life time after again thanks to the remarkable individual efforts of Drouin this spring. Despite his goal in Game 7, he remained dangerous throughout the night.
During the postseason, his overall performance was excellent, and this bodes well for his future. He may have been traded in mid-winter, but now he’s an important component of the Lightning’s plans for the future.
Depth Players Shine for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins’ Game 7 hero was Brian Rust, who scored both goals in the Penguins’ 2-1 victory in the final game. The heroics of Pittsburgh’s bench players were echoed in his enormous contribution.
When goalie Matt Murray appeared out of nowhere to settle the situation, it all began. In addition to allowing Pittsburgh to move the puck better, he helped cover up the blunders of a patched-together blue line that was plagued by injuries all spring.
Brian Dumoulin has been thrust into the spotlight in his first full season of NHL action. During the regular season, he played about 19 minutes per game, but now he’s playing nearly 21 minutes per game on a team aiming for the Stanley Cup Final.
Crosby and Malkin skated a lot of ice in this series, and that’s a testament to the Penguins’ two finest players.
As a result of Murray, Rust, Dumoulin, and others who stepped up in this series, there was a significant improvement.
Lightning: What Would Have Happened If They Had Been Healthy?
Buccaneers fans, players, and executives must be crushed by this loss. In truth, the team played exceptionally well in light of the fact that so many of its key roster players were sidelined for large portions of the series due to injury.
Goaltender Anton Stralman only played in 12 minutes of the series, but starting goalie Ben Bishop played the entire time. Steven Stamkos made an appearance in the championship game, although he had little impact.
Every club in the NHL playoffs has a pile of injuries at this point, so it’s simple to come up with excuses. The Lightning’s injuries are unique because of the significance of each player to the squad. You can’t lose a No. 1 goalie, a top-pairing defenseman, or an impact sniper and still compete at a high level that reflects your talent.
Tampa Bay was robbed of a legitimate shot at the championship because of those injuries.
The outcome of the Eastern Conference Final may have been different if those three individuals had been able to play in every game of the series.
The Turning Point for the Pittsburgh Penguins
During a tense, evenly-matched series, the winning goal in Game 7 was scored on an all-out effort, hard work over skill, and a little bit of luck.
Second-period Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin scored a spectacular goal at 9:36 of the second period. Pittsburgh goaltender Braden Holtby was stunned when his teammate fired an incredible shot past him into the upper left corner.
Once behind for eight minutes, Tampa Bay was able to get back in the game and drive for the next goal after it came back to even.
The evening Scoring was Finished on what was Essentially a Non-Play Thirty Seconds Later.
At the right time and in the right place, Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy sought to put the puck in the back of the net. The puck bounced perilously near the crease after missing severely. Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning’s goaltender, was unable to control the puck and did not adopt the traditional defensive posture of a goaltender throughout the play.
As any good forward would, Rust shovelled at the puck in the hopes that it would go in. The series was effectively over when the referee pointed to the net to indicate a goal.
The stronger squad prevailed in Game 7 of a fantastic series between two evenly matched clubs.