Power play ends Penguins season with 1-0 loss to Lightning
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury collects himself next to teammate Brent Johnson after losing to the Lightning Wednesday at Consol Energy Center.
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The Penguins gave a lot during the regular season.
Gave what was left for seven games during the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
They never gave up.
Finally, though, they gave out.
Tampa Bay defeated them, 1-0, Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center to claim a spot opposite Washington in the second round. The Penguins, meanwhile, had their playoff run end after one round for the first time since 2007.
Fittingly, the Penguins season expired while they were on a power play. It was their 35th of the series; precisely one of those produced a goal.
"It's a huge reason why we lost the series," left winger Chris Kunitz said. "We couldn't get the momentum when we needed to score those goals. For whatever reason, we couldn't kick the power play into gear."
No question that converting on one of their five chances with the extra man would have made a difference in Game 7 because the Penguins turned in their most complete, intense effort of the series.
"We played well," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "Put [out] everything we had. We emptied our tanks."
Score this game on a 10-point must system, and the Penguins were a pretty clear winner. Trouble is, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin unavailable, they had no one who could throw a knockout punch.
It is hard to ignore that their leading goal-scorer in the series was fourth-liner Arron Asham, who got three. That's one more than James Neal and Alex Kovalev -- the wingers brought in at the trade deadline to enhance the offense -- combined to get against the Lightning.
Kovalev didn't even make it onto the ice when the Penguins pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to get a six-on-four advantage in the final 93 seconds of regulation.
Coach Dan Bylsma said Kovalev didn't play then because Bylsma deployed the group he felt would "give us the best chance to cash in on the opportunity."
Tampa Bay got the only goal it needed from a member of its supporting cast, Sean Bergenheim, at 5:41 of the second period.
He flipped in a shot from along the goal line to the right of Fleury after taking a pass from Dominic Moore, who slid the puck back to Bergenheim while skating away from him behind the net.
Fleury already had moved to the far post, anticipating that a play would develop on that side of the ice, because that was the way Moore had been headed with the puck.
The goal was virtually identical to one Bergenheim and Moore combined to score in Tampa two nights earlier, and it wasn't an accident.
"The entire team practices it," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "They're just better at it [than the others], I guess."
Bergenheim's shot was the only one that eluded either goalie. Fleury finished with 22 saves, Dwayne Roloson of the Lightning made 36.
"We had pucks in around the net, and Dwayne Roloson threw a goose-egg," Bylsma said. "And our goalie stopped everything he saw. He didn't stop the one he couldn't see."
The loss dropped the Penguins to 7-7 in Game 7s. They are 2-6 in them at home, including four consecutive losses.
Tampa Bay is 3-0 in Game 7s and has rebounded from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series for the first time in its history.
The Penguins had the better of play right from the start as evidenced by their 15-7 advantage in shots during the first period. Tampa Bay owned an 11-7 edge in the second, but the Penguins outshot the Lightning, 14-5, in the third, when they were pressing for the goal that would have forced overtime.
It never came.
"We just couldn't get anything by [Roloson]," Asham said.
And now, they'll have about four months to think about it before they reconvene for training camp.
"I believed we were going to do it the whole time," Kunitz said.
"It still hasn't set in that our season is over."
First Published April 28, 2011 1:03 am