Cullen: Lightning-Pens going seven; Thornton an OT hero

Scott Cullen
4/26/2011 8:58:46 AM
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The Lightning force Game Seven while the Sharks won their third overtime game of the series to put away the Kings.

The Penguins are a team relying on grinders to provide their offence, but they were even outdone in that respect by the Lightning in Game Six, as Steve Downie had three points and Ryan Malone had two, and both scored third period goals to make the difference. 

They were former Penguin Malone's first two points of the series, while Downie now has six points in five games, despite playing a mere 10:22 per contest.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped just 17 of 21 shots for Pittsburgh.  In Pittsburgh's three losses in this series, Fleury has stopped 43 of 55 shots against, an abysmal .782 save percentage.  He'll have to be much closer to his best if the Penguins are going to win Game Seven.

In some ways, it's shocking that the Penguins have an opportunity to advance at all.  There have been plenty of examples of teams getting offensive contributions from their checking forwards in this year's playoffs, but this Penguins team is really taking it to a new level.

Their leading scorers in this postseason are Arron Asham and Max Talbot.  Defencemen Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik are up there too, and then Tyler Kennedy and Jordan Staal, two that might be considered a little more offensive because of their regular season numbers (Kennedy had 21 goals, 45 points; Staal had 11 goals, 30 points in 42 games) round out the top six.

That lack of pure offensive talent has come back to haunt the Penguins on the power play, as they are 1-for-30 (3.3%) with the man advantage in the series.  Conversely, the Lightning power play has scored in bunches, but is a healthy 8-for-25 (32.0%) overall.

Martin St. Louis, for example, has five of his series-leading eight points on the power play.

Strangely enough, St. Louis (minus-2) and Steven Stamkos (minus-1) were Tampa Bay's only minus players Game Six.

The season is on the line for both teams in Game Seven at Pittsburgh and six games have shown about what was expected.  The Penguins, missing their stars, have to use veteran guile, playoff savvy and strong goaltending if they are going to knock off the more talented Lightning.

Joe Thornton, who has long been criticized for coming up small in the playoffs, scored the series-winning goal in overtime, lifting the Sharks past a pesky Kings team.

The Kings' best line in the series, Kyle Clifford, Brad Richardson and Wayne Simmonds, combined for a minus-10 rating in the deciding game.  Nevertheless, Clifford and Richardson tied for the team lead in Round One with five points, while Simmonds chipped in three.

Veteran wingers Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams were productive, scoring five and four points, respectively, as were defencemen Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty.

Even Kings centre Trevor Lewis contributed a couple of points in Game Six, giving him four points in the last four games of the series.

At the same time, the Kings needed more production to make up for the loss of Anze Kopitar and couldn't get it, particularly down the middle, where Jarret Stoll and Michal Handzus managed one goal and five points between them.

Dustin Penner and Dustin Brown were both held to two points and a minus-3 rating in the series. 

It was a gutsy effort of the Kings to push the series to six, losing three games in overtime; to take it any further, they would have needed players like Penner, Brown and Handzus to elevate their production too.

The Sharks have tremendous balance throughout their lineup and it showed, with eight forwards scoring at least four points and four defencemen picking up at least three. 

The only forward in the Sharks' top nine to not score at least four points, Devin Setoguchi, set up the series winning goal, so the Sharks ought to be comfortable with their lineup, in general.

Goaltending may be another matter, as Antti Niemi allowed 19 goals on 139 shots, an .863 save percentage, which clearly won't be good enough to get the job done in the second round, against either Detroit or Chicago.

Another area of concern may be the San Jose power play, which was just 2-for-23 (8.7%), but the personnel is on hand to make it work.  After all, the Sharks did have the third-ranked power play in the regular season; it just so happened that that the Kings' fourth-ranked penalty killing unit was up to the task in this series.
That San Jose had as much trouble with the Kings as they did doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence heading into the second round, but it's far better to enter the second round with some doubts than to be going home disappointed.

Scott Cullen can be reached at and followed on Twitter at For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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