NHL Betting Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins host Lightning

By: Barry Daniels | Thursday, April 14, 2011

If it’s true that a hot goaltender can steal a playoff series, the Pittsburgh Penguins could be primed for a long playoff run. Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury completely stymied the Tampa Bay Lightning en route to a 3-0 victory in Game 1 of this best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

Pittsburgh closed as a 130 home favorite, while the combined three goals dipped below the 5 ½-goal closing total. As a result, the ‘under’ is now 6-2-1 in the last nine series meetings. The ‘under’ also improved to 13-4-1 in Pittsburgh’s last 18 home endeavors.

Most offshore sports books monitored by Don Best Sports' Real-Time Odds have installed Pittsburgh as a 135 home favorite for Friday’s Game 2, which will begin at 4 p.m. (PT).

While oddsmakers raised the ‘side’ by a nickel, they adjusted the ‘total’ down from 5 ½ goals in Game 1 to five ‘over’ (minus 120) for Game 2.

Part of the ‘total’ adjustment might be due to Fleury, who seems to be on top of his game. While the Lightning managed 32 shots on goal, Fleury rarely allowed a big rebound.

Third-year Lightning sensation Steven Stamkos was held to one registered shot on goal and attempted just four. Stamkos was the recipient of the game’s biggest hit when Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik nailed him behind the boards just 90 seconds into the game.

The result was the fifth shutout of the season for Fleury. The 27-year-old native of Quebec entered the playoffs with a 2.32 GAA and a .918 save percentage.

The Penguins’ defense picked up where it left off during the regular season. Pittsburgh finished the campaign on a four-game winning streak and did not allow more than two goals in any outing during that span.

Though former scoring-champion centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin remain missing from the lineup, the Penguins still managed to fire 40 shots on the Tampa Bay net.

Nevertheless, the Penguins weren't having any more luck beating Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson, who turned aside all 18 shots the Penguins launched at him in the second period. That kept the game scoreless heading into the final stanza.

Pittsburgh finally broke through early in the third when James Neal fed the puck to Alex Kovalev from the left point. Kovalev, who had been knocked down a few seconds earlier, took the pass at the bottom of the right circle and beat Roloson at 6:05 for what proved to be the winner.

Eighteen seconds later, Arron Asham provided some insurance with a tremendous individual effort. Chris Kunitz gave the Penguins their final margin of victory by hitting an empty net with 41.1 seconds remaining.

Both teams failed to click on the power play, with the Pens going 0-for-6 and the Lightning going 0-for-3. Pittsburgh held a 32-28 advantage in the faceoff circle.

If Tampa Bay has any hopes of tying this series, it must stay out of the penalty box. The club is fortunate the Penguins rank 25th on the power play with a poor 15.8 percent success rate.

However, the Pens entered the postseason ranked first in the league with an 86.1 percent success rate on the penalty kill. Tampa Bay owns the league’s sixth-best power play at 20.5 percent and is eighth on the penalty kill at 83.8 percent.

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