PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Dwayne Roloson deflected the credit the same way he turned aside so many of Pittsburgh’s shots over the past two weeks.
But try as he might to diminish his role in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s comeback from down big in their first-round playoff series, history doesn’t lie. When it comes to coming up big in must-win scenarios in the post-season, there aren’t many who can match Roloson.
The 41-year-old goalie made 36 saves for his second NHL playoff shutout, Sean Bergenheim scored, and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Penguins 1-0 win in Game 7 on Wednesday night.
“It really didn’t have anything to do with me; it was all about our guys,” said Roloson, acquired from the New York Islanders on Jan. 1. “They did everything humanly possible to prevent them from getting a quality (shot).”
Maybe, but the Penguins—playing without injured stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin—still managed to throw plenty of rubber at Roloson, including 14 shots in the third period.
Roloson is one of two goalies to win as many as six elimination games without a loss. He allowed only four goals in winning the final three games as Tampa Bay erased a 3-1 series deficit. He also won three straight in 2003 when he led the Minnesota Wild to a comeback against the Vancouver Canucks in the second round.
“Obviously, (Roloson) was amazing once again,” Tampa Bay forward Steven Stamkos said. “He’s just defying the odds. He was our MVP for sure, but we just battled hard. All we needed was one tonight.”
In the playoffs for the first time since 2007, the No. 5 seed Lightning will now face the top-seeded Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Penguins lost their second consecutive Game 7 and fell to 2-6 in such deciding games at home.
The loss of Crosby, who didn’t play after Jan. 5 because of a concussion, and Malkin’s season-ending knee injury proved to be too much for Pittsburgh to overcome. The Penguins had the second-most points in franchise history (106) during the regular season but failed to reach the second round for the first time since 2007.
“I think we can be proud of the way we did it,” Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “We had these two guys out of the lineup for a long time and a lot of injuries throughout the season and we still battled and got some points and had a good season. But the playoff is where it matters and it is disappointing.”
Bergenheim’s goal 5:41 into the second period was his third in the final four games of the series. Tampa Bay hadn’t advanced in the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup in 2004.
Despite a 36-23 edge in shots, the Penguins lost three consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 27, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010—a span of 141 games.
Playing their first Game 7 on the road, the Lightning were the first this year to win a series after trailing 3-1. Tampa Bay is 3-0 in Game 7s.
“Trailing 3-1, we kind of knew that after (Game 4) we lost in overtime, we thought our team got a lot better and was a lot stronger mentally,” Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. “It showed in the games after that.”
The Lightning killed a slashing penalty given to Nate Thompson with 1:33 left that gave the Penguins a 6-on-4 skating advantage after Fleury was pulled.
That was the fifth unsuccessful power play of the game for Pittsburgh, which was 1-for-35 for the series and had no power-play goals in 25 chances at home.
“Our penalty killing won us this series,” Lightning forward Martin St. Louis said. “And Roli was our best penalty-killer.”
After the Penguins took 17 of the first 24 shots, Bergenheim scored on a familiar play set up by a blind backhand pass by Dominic Moore. Moore skated behind the net toward the left-wing side and got the puck to Bergenheim, who was standing alone below the right circle.
Fleury hadn’t even turned his head back toward Bergenheim’s side of the ice as the puck was heading into the net.
Moore set up Bergenheim for a nearly identical goal in Tampa Bay’s 4-2 win in Game 6.
“We have been practising that play a little bit for this series,” Bergenheim said. “Moore just made two great passes on those two goals that we scored.”
Moore scored for Montreal during a Game 7 win in Pittsburgh last season, the final game played at Mellon Arena that snapped a four-game Penguins winning streak in Game 7s.
“We played quite a bit together all season long and were pretty comfortable with each other,” Moore said. “It helps to be on the same page in the offensive zone and to know where each other is going to be.”
This one was the only goal Roloson and the Lightning needed. Pittsburgh had lost all 23 games in which it trailed heading into the third period, and that trend continued even though the Penguins controlled play for much of the frame in a desperate attempt to keep their season alive.
Roloson, who entered with a 1.80 goals-against average and .939 save percentage in elimination games, stopped Tyler Kennedy from close range 1:15 into the third, and turned away Chris Kunitz, James Neal and Mark Letestu over the next 80 seconds.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of wrong,” Penguins centre Jordan Staal said. “Maybe we made one mistake and they capitalized on it. Obviously our offence wasn’t there, and Roli played pretty well. We got a lot of shots, battled hard and it just wasn’t our night.
“We all really thought that we had the series.”
Notes: This was the fourth Game 7 the Penguins played in their past six series. … Roloson’s other playoff shutout was May 17, 2006, for Edmonton in a second-round win over San Jose. … The Lightning became the 24th NHL team in 244 tries to come back from a 3-1 series deficit and advance. … The visiting team won five of the final six games of the series. … Former Islanders G Chico Resch was 7-0 in elimination games.