So, I meant to do this post a month ago. But I decided to wait until Tampa Bay was eliminated so we could assess them appropriately. Here we go....
The Penguins entered the playoffs as the 4th seed, earning home ice advantage over their 5th seed opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Pens entered the series with high expectations after overachieving throughout the season. After taking a step back, it is easy to see that those expectations far surpassed the roster potential that the Penguins had intact for the playoffs. On the eve of the playoffs though, few people cared about how the Penguins got to this point, they just wanted to win it all now that the Penguins had arrived there. Very few people in Pittsburgh were scared of the Lightning. But a more telling sign of the series would be that analysts were split down the middle on who would win this series, with everyone figuring it would take 6-7 games.
GAME 1: Pens win 3-0.
GAME 2: Lightning win 5-1.
GAME 3: Pens win 3-2.
GAME 4: Pens win 3-2 (OT).
GAME 5: Lightning win 8-2.
GAME 6: Lightning win 4-2.
GAME 7: Lightning win 1-0.
Tampa Bay wins the series 4-3.
In the end, Tampa Bay executed to a much higher degree than the Penguins did. Tampa had more offensive talent, which displayed prominently on their powerplays, and their commitment to team defense was greater. Roloson faced a plethora of shots, but most were from the blue line or bad angles. On paper, Tampa was the better team. Intangibles went to Pittsburgh. In the end, coaching went to Tampa Bay, and that may have been the final difference in the series.
Tampa Bay proceeded to sweep the Capitals in the semi-finals and made it to the conference finals before succumbing to Boston. The Lightning had a very similar team to last year's Canadiens that knocked out the Penguins. A commitment to protecting their goalie and some timely goals with fantastic special teams appears to be a good blue print to get through 2 rounds of the playoffs. In the long run, I would say the Penguins still have a better team than Tampa, especially once you add Crosby and Malkin back. But this just wasn't the year. This was a tough pill for the Penguins to swallow, but maybe a necessary one for them to appreciate how good they have it when everyone is healthy and playing at top form.
This offseason will bring about many changes, especially amongst the role players. The defense and goaltending is locked up. But look for the 3rd and 4th lines to change drastically moving forward. More on that to come!