Unfazed by noise and hits

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TAMPA, Fla.

They had waited four years for this night at the waterside, and the great wall of pulsating noise they brought to it was only the beginning of the Lightning plan for a deafening return to the postseason.

They passed out drums to the first 15,000 through the turnstiles last night, have an equal number of Thundersticks on order for Game 4, and should there be a Game 6 here on Easter Monday, I guess everyone through the doors will get his or her own Fender Concert Amplifier.

Just one problem -- not one decibel of it seemed to rattle the Penguins.

Not one bit.

Tyler Kennedy's third-period goal on a puck that leaked away from Dwayne Roloson into the slot at 2:43 of the third period was the difference on a night the Lightning worked frantically for better than an hour and a half to wipe away a two-goal Penguins lead, then gave it back in barely 30 seconds.

The Penguins and their still-completely-useless power play (it's 0 for 15) still might not win this series, but the way they responded to all the emotion the home team and the 20,545 witnesses brought to Monday night's 60-minute aural assault was its own little monument to their core toughness.

For Game 3, the Penguins had apparently convinced themselves that the physical price of victory would be paid in lump sums, and they soon had the lumps to prove it.

Ben Lovejoy assisted on the first goal of the night, a goal he only saw on replay sometime around midnight because at the moment Max Talbot whistled it past Roloson, Lovejoy was still flat on his back 180 feet up ice.

He swooped in hot puck pursuit behind Marc-Andre Fleury's net in the sixth minute of the first period and got a faceful of Steve Downie for his trouble, and Lovejoy went down backward onto both shoulders harder than anything the WWE will be able to cook up for the Bay area audience in the coming weeks. But the puck from which Lovejoy had been so violently separated somehow wound up on the stick of Talbot, who put the Penguins ahead at 5:46, a goal that preceded by only 45 seconds one generated by an unlikely two-on-one break by Michael Rupp and Arron Asham.

Tampa's Pavel Kubina, unable to take Rupp's pass option away as he floated backward toward Roloson, instead threw his 258 pounds to the ice and simply hoped for the best.

He got a 2-0 deficit instead, along with some instant validation for something head coach Guy Boucher had said after Monday's morning skate.

"We're not going to win the game in the first 10 minutes," the Lightning coach ventured.

They might have lost it in the first seven, but that remained merely the ready focus of 20-20 hindsight.

Only pure pain absorption stood doggedly as the Penguins' theme from one end of the Florida ice to the other, from one end of this 60 minutes of thumping playoff hockey to the other.

The extent to which the Penguins were willing to venture to establish the physical edge took on slightly preposterous proportions early in the period two, when Chris Connor took a center ice run at Tampa's Victor Hedman. At 6-6 and 229, Hedman is roughly a foot taller and 50 pounds heavier than Connor, but Connor bounced off him with no apparent ill effects.

Brooks Orpik wasn't so lucky in another behind-the-net collision with Dana Tyrell, who plowed into the defensive stalwart and inflicted plenty of pain based on Orpik's reaction. Typically, Orpik didn't miss a shift.

It was Tyrell who had explained all the working politics of this series' first two games as nothing more than a matter of whose skin had been gotten under by whom.

"I think the first game, they got under our skin a bit," Tyrell had explained before the opening faceoff. "And the second game, we took it back to them a bit. We're going to take it to them [in Game 3] and I think whoever is going to get under the opponent's skin is going to win."

So you've heard of the subway series. Now we have the subcutaneous series. It was Tampa's epidermis that got punctured in Game 3, at least in every figurative sense. That got accomplished in fairly predictable ways, such as Fleury's brilliant third period, when he stopped two marvelous opportunities by Sean Bergenheim, first from the left faceoff circle with 8:15 to play, and then, after a Pascal Dupuis turnover in the neutral zone, with 5:50 to play.

But the 3-2 lead wasn't definitely preserved until someone took still another massive lump, so it might as well have been Connor, all 5-8, 180 pounds of him. With 2:30 left, Connor threw himself in front of a heavy slapshot from Hedman, the rebound going all the way to center ice.

Game 3 hurt all right, but it hurt so good.


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com .


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