Play of game: Penguins' Letang fails in a pinch
Tampa Bay defensmean Eric Brewer, rear, is congratulated by Simon Gagne and Victor Hedman after scoring against Marc-Andre Fleury in the first period Friday.
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More often than not, the Penguins' push-at-all-times system of puck pursuit has paid off handsomely for Kris Letang. His skating and hockey sense allow him to pinch almost without risk.
On a night when so much went awry for one of the NHL's most-gifted defensemen, it was Letang's early risk-taking that set the stage for the 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 of the teams' playoff series Friday at Consol Energy Center.
"Tough game," Letang said. "We're just going to have to look at tape, see what happened, and go back to practice."
They will need to rewind to the beginning ...
In the opening two minutes, the teams were skating four-on-four, a setting usually conducive to risk if only because that is the format for regular-season overtime. Take a risk in one of those, and your team still has the point it earned through regulation.
This, of course, was different.
Center Jordan Staal carried the puck into the Tampa Bay zone but was rubbed off it by the time he reached the left corner. Linemate Pascal Dupuis charged after the now-loose puck behind the net but was beaten there by Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who chipped it to the right corner. Staal and Dupuis crossed paths behind the net.
Stop right there.
In Dan Bylsma's system, a defenseman is free to pinch because the third forward -- designated "F3" -- goes back to cover for him. Obviously, there is no "F3" in a four-on-four, and both forwards in this event were trapped, which should have signaled to Letang to ... well, stop right there.
Instead, he skated hard in pursuit.
"I saw a forward down there, and I went in," Letang said. "I shouldn't have."
Tampa Bay left winger Simon Gagne was first to the puck in the right corner, and he deftly touched a pass to defenseman Eric Brewer a few feet away. Just like that, the Lightning had a two-on-one break for nearly the length of the ice.
"I saw him coming," Gagne said of Letang, "and that's why I was able to make that play. Maybe a dangerous play by him, but, most of the time, he's going to get you there. I was pretty lucky."
Brewer lugged the puck through the neutral zone but, despite having Nate Thompson ahead on the left wing, declined to headman it. Brooks Orpik, Letang's abandoned partner, backpedaled and, as defensemen are taught, took away Brewer's passing option and left goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to focus on the puck-carrier.
"I think the defenseman was hoping I would pass it and was overplaying it to encourage the shot," Brewer said, referring to Orpik. "We don't get a whole lot of looks like that. More times than not, you'll see a D-man shoot that one."
Brewer's sweet riser of a wrist shot from the right dot -- Tampa Bay's first shot of the night -- zipped over Fleury's glove to the short side at 2:02.
"Just found some space," Brewer said.
Letang was visibly displeased afterward, his interview time lasting about 30 seconds.
"It's four-on-four," he said with a slight shake of the head. "It's just a read. It was a bad one, and I got caught."
First Published April 16, 2011 12:00 am