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The Real Deal James Neal Scores the Game-Winner: Pens Down Lightning 3-2 in Double-Overtime

Lightning Blog: Raw Charge

Playoff overtime is a double-edged sword.  It's exciting and nerve racking.  Intense and, when the ice gets choppy, a waiting game of pensive emotions. 

But doesn't a win in double-overtime make it so much sweeter? 

All hail The Real Deal James Neal.

The Pens struck first nearly halfway through the first period on a Tyler Kennedy power-play go...wait, power play?  Yes folks, you read right.  Power play.  TK got a nice look at the net and sniped one right past Dwayne Roloson to give Pittsburgh an early lead. 

And of course, would it really be a Penguins-Lightning playoff game without Arron Asham registering a point?  Not even three minutes into the second period, Asham did just that.  In fact, he nearly did it seconds beforehand on a solid backhander that just missed beating Roloson, but a rebound of Zbynek Michalek's shot from the point allowed Asham to launch one past Tampa to push the lead to two.  At first glance it was hard to tell it even went in, but when the crowd reacted you just knew.  Mind you, that's a home crowd in Tampa reacting to a Penguins goal.

Ahem.  Anyway...

If we learned anything from Game Three it's that watching the Pens try to hang onto an early lead is exceptionally stressful.  It's playoff hockey to begin with, which is to say both teams are going out there with the knowledge that it can all end by early next week.  But when you put a team like Tampa Bay in a two-goal hole, they'll do whatever it takes to fight out of it.  Martin St. Louis helped lead the way Monday night for the Lightning.  Lo and behold, he did the exact same thing Wednesday for Tampa, when he beat Marc-Andre Fleury on a speedy breakaway into the zone.  The guy's good, but there's only one Real Deal.

But before we can even get to the James Neal heroics, we first have to acknowledge the fact that the Pens entered the third period with a one-goal lead and the hope of either adding to it or escaping with the W, much like they did earlier in the week.  Sean Bergenheim would have something to say about that as he and the Lightning crashed the net with just over three minutes to go in the period to slip one past a flopping Fleury. 

Then came overtime.

And overtime again.

Until Neal took a sharp-angled shot early in the second overtime to beat Roloson and secure the win.  It's always nice to see a guy who has been struggling - ie. coming up short, just missing the net, hitting the post, etc. - to get that boost of confidence.  Here's to hoping he can carry that back into Pittsburgh on Saturday so the Pens can close this thing out.

I mentioned Asham before - and frankly, I've mentioned him in every recap that surrounds each game of this series.  That's simply because you have to.  For Asham, a player who more or less struggled to find his footing during the regular season, it has to be rewarding.  Thankfully, the Pens are the ones benefiting from his reward as well.  Wednesday's second period goal marks his third of the series and fourth point in four games.  In case you're wondering let me just answer it for you - Yes, that leads the team in points, one ahead of Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang, each with three. 

For a long game, Fleury was hardly challenged.  You could simply say the Tampa offense was not getting good looks, but you'd be better served to credit the Pens' defense for limiting Tampa's chances.  To compare, Fleury stopped a total of 29 shots in just over 83 minutes of game time.  Roloson faced 53 shots, stopping 50 and definitely coming up big in moments during regulation and OT to keep the Lightning in it.

For the gushing Eric Tangradi lovers out there, he made his presence known tonight.  Maybe he didn't do it on the scoreboard, but he definitely stood in as a nice replacement for Chris Kunitz, registering a team-high five hits in 15 minutes of ice time.

Pens will look to finish this one up Saturday at noon.  Again, Saturday at noon.  The time has been changed and, rest assured, so too has the start time for the open thread.