“It’ll just be one and Neal and everyone else will forget about the last 21 games for James Neal, where he hasn’t really got on the board too much. It just takes one.”
These were the words of Bob Errey and Paul Steigerwald commentating the Penguins Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Game 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the (at the time) St. Pete Times Forum in the spring of 2011.
Two months prior, leading up to the trade deadline, the Penguins acquired Neal in a trade with the Dallas Stars in exchange for defenseman Alex Goligoski.
The season itself turned into a giant cesspool, marred by Sidney Crosby’s concussion in the 2011 Winter Classic, Evgeni Malkin shredding the ligaments in his knee and being ruled out for the season, and the ugly hockey game on Long Island that better resembled a royal rumble.
The Penguins still managed to claw their way to the playoffs — I still don’t even know how they did this.
They qualified as the 4-seed and played host to Tampa Bay in the first round. After splitting home games at the newly opened Console Energy Center, the Penguins traveled to Florida to take on the Lightning.
After taking the win in Game 3, the Penguins were looking to take a hold of the series with a Game 4 win as well.
The Penguins were hanging on to a 2-1 win going into the third period, where Sean Bergenheim would tie things up 2-2 late in regulation.
The game would go to overtime and still remained tied after the first period of extra time.
At this point, early into the second frame of overtime, noted pain in the ass Dwayne Roloson had made fifty saves on fifty-two shots.
Neal, who the Penguins went out and acquired before the deadline, had been on an ice-cold streak of one goal in 20 games during the regular season for the team, and scoreless during the first three games of the series.
It’s still comical to me how what seemed like the lowest-danger chance just thrown at the net from the half-wall is the one that went in.
The deflating tone in the Tampa Bay home team’s color commentator —
The Penguins win gave them a 3-1 series lead that they surely did not take advantage of. They got dominated in Game 5 at home, lost Game 6 4-2 on the road, and lost 1-0 in Game 7 back at home, in what could be one of the more frustrating Penguins elimination games of this era.