Collier: Game 7 home ice meaningless

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Maybe we can remember this before we spend six to eight weeks next winter trumpeting the importance of home-ice advantage.

Maybe we can dispense with the thundering this-is-our-house entreaties that explode from the Consol Energy Center's state-of-the-art amplifiers, the aural bravado that simply isn't worth the decibels it absorbs, much less describe any relationship to reality.

Now, with the only semi-startling events of a forgettable Wednesday night, the Penguins are 2-6 in Game 7s on home ice, having lost, 1-0, to the indestructible Tampa Bay Lightning, just as they closed Civic Arena last spring to the Game 7 delight of the Montreal Canadiens.

Oh yeah, home ice around here is huge.

Three of Tampa Bay's four wins in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals came in Pittsburgh, the only place in North America where the home team lost Game 7 on home ice.

There was no more appropriate way for this Penguins season to end than in the middle of another frantically inept power play, which is exactly what was in full regress at the sound of the final horn of the final game of the inaugural season across the street from the Civic tomb.

Destiny might have a new home, but it has got a chicken-scat power play.

Tampa Bay scored the only goal it needed to win Game 7 on a virtual replay of the exquisite play it worked against Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period of Game 6. Dominic Moore took the puck behind the net just far enough to force Fleury to turn his head, and just as he did, Moore slid the biscuit in the opposite direction with the backhand to a waiting Sean Bergenheim at the goal line.

Bergenheim flicked it home again -- again from about 15 feet away -- and again he gave the Lightning a one-goal lead, this time in the final game of a series that seemed more combustible with every twist of the wrist.

But for their last comical power play, the one that left them 1 for 35 in the series, and 0 for 25 at home, Dan Bylsma kept Alex Kovalev off the ice, even when he pulled Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater. The head coach had clearly run out of patience with Kovalev, whose second Pittsburgh engagement will go into history as pretty much a bust. And it's pretty much history as we speak.

But even 6 on 4, the Penguins could do nothing with Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson.

Perhaps the most underrated of all the potential determinants of this series when it began April 13, Roloson continued two incredible postseason statistical trends that doomed a Penguins team without the snipers to do anything about it.

Roloson has been in four postseasons with four teams, and the older he has gotten -- the man is 41 -- the better his goals against averages have been. It was 4.32 with Buffalo in 1999, 2.60 with Minnesota in 2003, 2.33 with Edmonton in '06, and 2.05 when Game 7 started, which, you might have noticed, ended 2.05 goals below his average. On top of that, Roloson was 5-0 in elimination games.

His performance is all the more remarkable when you consider the volume of rubber the Penguins threw at him, 36 shots last night and 257 for the series, 11 more shots per game than the Lightning put on Fleury.

Finally, maybe we can somehow become comfortable with the inescapable truth of the highly complicated Penguins-Lightning dynamic, which is this:

The most significant event between these teams came not in any frozen moment of the past two weeks, but on the night of Jan. 5, when Sidney Crosby drifted in a diminished fog from the Uptown ice surface under the compound effects of punishing hits he absorbed in two consecutive games and left the balance of this hockey season to his teammates.

They did all they could, chasing the best record in the Eastern Conference to the season's final week, ignoring anyone who said they were kidding themselves for entertaining any notion of a postseason that would penetrate May.

But, in the end, they were unable to overcome Crosby's absence, compounded by the knee injury to Evgeni Malkin, which left them looking strikingly ordinary to downright inept in the offensive zone. Bylsma's forwards look absolutely first-rate as complementary players -- role players if you must -- but they strike little fear in the opposition without top-shelf centers to set them up. Kris Letang, who appeared capable of picking up some of that slack, failed to get a goal over the final 31 games, including the seven against Tampa Bay.

If nothing else, Game 7 gave us the long-awaited news on Crosby. I'm pretty sure he's not coming back this year.


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com .


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