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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Playoff Update: Pens 1, Lightning 5

Well apparently the mojo has moseyed on down the road.  Let's just hope it's temporary.

Last night, Game 2 of the playoff matchup between the Pens and Lightning was a far cry from what we witnessed in Game 1.

It's almost better for me when these games are not nationally televised because at least I can wake up the next morning knowing that most of America probably didn't see the performance I unfortunately witnessed by Pittsburgh.  The Lightning came out swinging, putting up a 3 goal first period.  I think I have mentioned it before that the Lightning offense is scary good and they wasted no time getting back into peak form.

Despite missing a few teeth from an accidental stick to the face in Game 1 by Zbynek Michalek, Martin St. Louis led the charge with a goal and an assist but his bigger role was team leader.  Marty has such a passion for the game that it becomes infectious for the rest of his teammates and it's almost like they instantly are fitted with turbo boosters.  Let's just say I knew Game 1 was a fluke and all they needed was time to shake off the playoff rust.

The Pens just looked flat all night.  They were missing routine passes, seeming playing from their own end the entire night, tripping over themselves on defense, and could barely get the puck through the neutral zone.  The only goal came from Craig Adams as the rest of the role players seemed to have lost their way.  The Power Play was non existent once again as they went 0 for 7 and are now 0 for 13 in the series.  But the biggest problem of the night was my playoff x-factor, Marc-Andre Fleury. 

When he is on, he is brilliant like in Game 1.  He has some of the quickest reflexes and most flexibility of any goaltender in the NHL.  The problem is that when he faces situations where there are routine type saves to be made, I think he tries to get too cute.  I'm not placing all the blame here on MAF because his defense certainly left him out to dry on a few of those goals but the first goal of the game...come on!  That, to me, was a pretty soft goal.  He should have been able to stop that in his sleep.  After that one went in, I knew things were not going to bode well for the rest of the evening and I was right.

Two days rest and off to Florida.  Here's every goal from Friday night while we wait.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Playoff Update: Pens 3, Lightning 0

It's Playoff Time!!!

This is my favorite time of year.  Forget the NFL playoffs.  Forget March Madness.  I'll take April/May/June Madness any day of the week.  So, yeah.  I was a little psyched about today.  I figured I would do a bit of a game recap in case anyone didn't get to see this defensive battle.

The Penguins, despite losing half their team at one point or another during the season, losing their best scoring threat in Evgeni Malkin, and losing their captain, Sidney Crosby, they were still in the mix.  In fact, they went on a run at the end of the season that put them tied in points for the division lead and essentially half a point out of 2nd place in the conference.  Because of second and third tier scoring, they ended second in the division behind Philadelphia and fourth in the conference.  That gave them home ice advantage, at least for the first round.

And that's where it began tonight.  Consol Energy Center played host in it's first of many playoff games against the always scary Tampa Bay Lightning.  I will admit, I didn't think the Pens matched up well with a healthy Tampa Bay team.  The Bolts are fast, very good on the power play, and have that ridiculous 1-3-1 formation that always seems to confuse Pittsburgh.  In order to win this series, the Pens are going to have to rely on what they did best all season...kill penalties with precision and play defense as if the Cosacks are storming the Kremlin.

Tonight was a good warm up.  Fleury was a beast in goal.  It's not often that I will give the guy the credit he deserves but tonight he stood on his head.  Spectacular save after spectacular save kept the game's lack of scoring an afterthought.  He shut down everything that was thrown at him for his fifth playoff shutout.  Not to be outdone, Dwayne Roloson stopped 37 shots from the Penguins as they unloaded on net every chance they had.  But I'm not here to talk about Lightning players that should or shouldn't have retired 5 years ago.

Fleury stopped Ryan Malone early on in the first period during a mad scramble in front of the net.  About 8 minutes later, Brett Clark blasted a shot from the point that was deflected by Dominic Moore.  Fleury twisted in an inhuman fashion, stopping the puck.  Moore was already celebrating the goal before he realized it didn't go in.  A couple seconds later, Fleury was behind the play, turned around backwards and did a pinwheel roll through the crease to stop Malone again.  It was completely insane.  The CEC crowd when crazy and the "Fleury" chants began.

A few seconds into the second, Stamkos blasted a shot from the point which Fleury stopped again but the rebound came off right to Vinny Lecavalier.  In typical fashion he razzle-dazzled a pass between his legs to himself that Fleury somehow stopped again with his blocker hand.  In all, MAF stopped 32 shots in a brilliant effort.  But that's the kind of play they have been getting from him over the second half of the season.  As much as I hate to give these to a goalie, he is by far and away the team MVP. 

As for the offense, Kovalev made good on his trade deadline signing by scoring the first playoff goal.  He got dumped in the corner by Pavel Kubina and was on his knees as the crowd was desperate for a penalty call.  None came but James Neal broke up a play by the Lightning, feeding the stranded Kovalev with a laser pass that was subsequently put into the back of the net.  Less than twenty seconds later, Arron Asham took off down the ice, faked a shot, cut around the back of the goal, and dumped one on a wrap around.  He was stuffed by the post but the rebound came back to him and he put it in behind Roloson who was still trying to get back to the crease after being burned by the wrap around attempt.  The final goal was an empty net tally by Chris Kunitz.

So far, so good.  I was impressed with the Pens defensive play and their surprisingly restrained physical play.  It seems like when they focus on protecting their own zone and forcing play to center ice, they get the opportunities they need to allow some of their role players to get shots on goal.  If they can keep that kind of play consistent, this series may be over quickly.  Once it goes back to Tampa, though, I think the superstars on the Bolts will wake up in front of the home crowd.  Until then, it's good to be a Penguin fan. 

Here are some highlights, if they actually work...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Topps Actually Came Through...So Far

We have all had our problems with redemption cards.  I think if you added up all the lost, missing, or unfulfilled card requests that have been talked about across the blogosphere, you would have enough to circumference the globe 7 times.  I have not been pervious to such issues either when a while back I received an interesting email from Topps.  Remember?  I posted about it before.  Of course you don't.

At any rate, a surprise awaited me when I arrived home from work.  Three little yellow shipping envelopes that we have all come to know and love.  Only these were different.  They were smaller, heavily taped, and addressed from a "Fulfillment Center".  This could only mean one thing...Upper Deck finally sent their redemption. 


It was Topps!!  Yes, that Topps.  The same company that said they were sorry they couldn't get to it in a timely fashion and that I should probably pick something else.  Why they were shipped in three separate envelopes was beyond me but, I digress.  They were finally shipping the redemption cards from the Gridiron Giveaway Rookie Of The Week promotion that was distributed through LCS's across the country.  If you didn't get in on any of these, you missed out.  Every week through the 2010 NFL season, shop owners could give out redemption cards for that week's star rookie with the purchase of any Topps product.  At least, that was the idea.

So here they are for your viewing pleasure.  The first three Rookies Of The Week redemption cards by Topps.

Week 1

 Week 2

Week 3

It looks like a bunch of people have already got them up on Ebay and there are a few closed auctions with prices all over the board.  It looks like the Sam Bradford is the big winner but the rest seem to be pulling a couple bucks or so. 

More to come later...if they decide to send them.