PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Tampa Bay Lightning forward Martin St. Louis won’t have any trouble adjusting his playoff game face.
Three broken teeth and a fat lip took care of that.
Following a late-night trip to the dentist during which he endured two root canals, St. Louis was at practice Thursday vowing to even the score a day after a series-opening 3-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Rather than seeking payback against Penguins defenceman Zbynek Michalek, who’s errant stick cracked St. Louis across the face, the diminutive forward was more focused on providing the Lightning’s high-powered offence a spark in Game 2 of the first-round series at Pittsburgh on Friday.
“I’ve moved on,” said St. Louis, who was initially livid—to the point of yelling at the officials at the bench—that no penalty was called against Michalek after the two collided in the corner midway through the second period. “It’s an emotional game, you know. At a certain point in time, you get to a boiling point I guess.”
He’d rather take out his frustrations by helping solve Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who was at his acrobatic self in making 32 saves to stymie a Tampa Bay offence that finished the regular season second in the East with 247 goals.
“I’m not going to let my emotions get the better of me and hurt my team,” St. Louis said. “We’ve talked among ourselves. We know what we have to rectify. And I know we’ll come out and play a strong game.”
The Lightning had their chances, but lacked finish during a game in which Fleury foiled Ryan Malone despite having his back to the play, and then made a diving arm save to stop Vincent Lecavalier in close.
Lightning coach Guy Boucher was more concerned about guarding his team from frustration.
“There were enough scoring chances,” Boucher said. “We know we’re encountering an amazing goaltender, who can win a game by himself. But we also know there’s a lot of instances where our guys weren’t in the right place to make something happen.”
With Fleury holding down the fort, the Penguins finally broke through as Alex Kovalev and Arron Asham scored 18 seconds apart during a three-goal third period in their first playoff game in their new home. As welcome as the victory was, the Penguins are aware they can’t rely on Fleury alone.
“I don’t think we shut them down,” defenceman Ben Lovejoy said. “They had some good chances and Marc was awesome back there.”
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was concerned with how his defenders had difficulty containing the speedy and creative Lightning forwards, who controlled much of the play in the first period.
“We’re aware that they’re a dangerous team,” Bylsma said. “We still feel like we have to improve and get better at our game and prove we’re a good team in this type of (playoff) setting.”
The Penguins opened the playoffs the way they ended the regular season, adopting a defensive-first, opportunistic approach. The transformation was necessary after the team played the final half of the season without Sidney Crosby (concussion), and then lost Evgeni Malkin to a season-ending knee injury in February.
Pittsburgh’s defence made up the difference, allowing 199 goals to finish fourth in the East.
After watching Game 1 from the coaching box, Crosby continued practicing with the team Thursday, but he’s not been cleared for contact and there’s no timetable on a return.
The Penguins have also adopted a physical style, which was apparent 90 seconds into Game 1 when defenceman Brooks Orpik rocked Lightning forward Steven Stamkos with a heavy hit in the corner.
“That was one of the biggest hits I’ve ever seen, especially against a player of that guy’s calibre,” Lovejoy said. “That really set the tone for our team.”
Stamkos, after his playoff debut, shrugged off questions about the hit, and chalked it up as a learning experience.
“Although you want to perform right away,” he said, “I think I can take a lot of things I can learn from that game that I can apply for the rest of the series.”
Stamkos isn’t alone. Eight other teammates made their playoff debuts. But St. Louis, who won the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004, isn’t worried about the team’s lack of experience.
“Well, the first one’s under their belt,” he said “So, they know what to expect.”