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Posted On Thursday, 04.21.2011 / 7:00 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay Live Blog

Dan Bylsma: 'Jordan Staal was spectacular'

James Neal's overtime heroics wasn't the only top storyline of Game 4 at St. Pete Times Forum.

The Penguins penalty-killers did a superb job in support of Marc-Andre Fleury, not only denying the Lightning on four power-play chances but limiting them to only three shots, including a single shot during an advantage late in the first OT. Tampa Bay had scored four power-play goals in the first three games.
 
Penguins center Jordan Staal was at the center of those penalty kills. Staal, who logged 28:33 of ice time, blocked two shots, doled out three hits and won 54 percent of his face-offs, was "spectacular" in the eyes of coach Dan Bylsma.
 
"We asked him to do a lot for our team and he's a huge guy down the middle for us at both ends of the rink," Bylsma said. "To log those types of minutes and play those situations, he's a big backbone and he was a horse again on the penalty-kill and in overtime, blocking shots, winning battles and keeping that puck in the zone to give Neal a chance on the game-winner."

His most important play might have come just 18 seconds before Neal's game-clincher in the second OT, when he won an offensive-zone draw from Adam Hall at the 3:20. It was his 19th face-off win of the evening. The only player remotely close to Staal in faceoff wins Wednesday night was Tampa Vincent Lecavalier with 15.

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.20.2011 / 10:37 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay Live Blog

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh tied, 2-2, through first OT

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins have now completed four periods here at St. Pete Times Forum and remain in a 2-2 deadlock.

The Penguins, who outshot the Lightning in the first overtime, 11-8, hold a 51-30 advantage for the game. Sean Bergenheim's first goal of the playoffs off a mad scramble in the slot at 16:43 had pulled Tampa Bay into a 2-2 tie. Defenseman Pavel Kubina made the play happen when his shot from the right point triggered a flurry of activity in the crease. Martin St. Louis took a few pokes, but it was Bergenheim knocking home his first career playoff goal.

Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson has 49 saves and Penguins keeper Marc-Andre Fleury turned back 28 shots.

Roloson made a splendid stop on Arron Asham with 8:18 left in the first OT off a tip in the slot to keep the game knotted at 2-all.

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.20.2011 / 8:51 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay Live Blog

St. Louis provides some life - Pens hold 2-1 lead after two periods

Martin St. Louis never ceases to amaze.

Just when his team needed some life, something to feel confident about heading into the second intermission, 'Louie' was there -- again.

St. Louis scored his fourth goal of the playoffs after collecting a no-look bank pass off the side boards in the neutral zone from Vincent Lecavalier. After collecting the puck in stride at the Penguins blue line near the players' bench, St. Louis curled into the right circle and muscled away from defenseman Ben Lovejoy before snapping a shot over the waffle of Marc-Andre Fleury to pull Tampa Bay within 2-1 at 17:14 of the second.

The goal set St. Pete Times Forum into a state of delirium and gave the fans and their players hope entering the final 20 minutes of regulation time in Game 4. The Penguins hold a 30-14 advantage in shots through 40 minutes of action.

The Penguins would be rewarded for their hard work to open the second when Arron Asham's harmless-looking wrist shot from the right circle deflected off the skate blade of a passing Nate Thompson and past Roloson at the 2:39 mark. The goal meant that, for the second straight game, the Lightning would be forced to rally from a two-goal deficit.

The Penguins opened a 1-0 lead at the first intermission on Tyler Kennedy's second goal in two games.

After denying a Lightning power-play in the opening four minutes of the first period, the Penguins received their 16th opportunity with the man advantage at the 7:19 mark when Vincent Lecavalier was whistled for holding.

With 1:05 remaining on the advantage, Penguins center Mark Letestu won an offensive-zone draw away from Nate Thompson and back to point man Zbynek Michalek. Michalek dished to Tyler Kennedy in the left circle. Kennedy skated in before unleashing a wrist shot that beat Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson to the short side at 8:14. It was Pittsburgh's second shot on the power-play.

The visitors almost got burned on their second power-play attempt of the period with Sean Bergenheim off the ice high sticking at 16:49. Just as Bergenheim had finished serving his penalty, he sprung out of the box and collected an outlet from Dana Tyrell in stride. With Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen tugging from behind, Bergenheim still managed to get a fine backhand attempt on Marc-Andre Fleury, who closed the pads to make the save. The rebound bounced to a rushing Lecavalier, whose backhand chance was also snuffed by Fleury at 18:57.

The Penguins, as they did in the early stages of their Game 3 victory on Monday, dictated much of the play, outshooting the Lightning, 12-6.

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.20.2011 / 7:50 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay Live Blog

Pens score power-play goal; grab 1-0 lead

Let the pigeons loose! The power-play drought for the Pittsburgh Penguins in these Stanley Cup Playoffs is history. As a result, the Penguins have taken a 1-0 lead at the first intermission.

After killing a Tampa Bay power-play in the early stages of the opening 20 minutes, the Penguins received their 16th opportunity with the man advantage at the 7:19 mark when Vincent Lecavalier was whistled for holding.

With 1:05 remaining on the advantage, Penguins' center Mark Letestu won an offensive-zone draw away from Nate Thompson back to point man Zbynek Michalek. Michalek dished to Tyler Kennedy in the left circle. Kennedy skated in before unleashing a wrist shot that beat Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson short side at 8:14. It was Pittsburgh's second shot on the power-play.

The visitors almost got burned on their second power-play attempt of the period with Sean Bergenheim off the ice high sticking at 16:49. Just as Bergenheim had finished serving his penalty, he sprung out of the box and collected an outlet from Dana Tyrell in stride. With Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen tugging from behind, Bergenheim still managed to get an attempt on Marc-Andre Fleury, who did the splits. The rebound was gobbled up by Lecavalier, but the Lightning captain couldn't generate a quality chance.

The Penguins, as they did in the early stages of their Game 3 victory on Monday, dictated much of the play, outshooting the Lightning, 12-6.

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.20.2011 / 6:58 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay Live Blog

Penguins-Lightning pregame report

So the teams just finished up pregame warmups here at St. Pete Times Forum and we're closing in on Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal between the Lightning and Penguins.

Fans are ready with their Lightning logoed thundersticks (I forgot my Advil again).

So it looks like rookie Eric Tangradi will earn his first career playoff start. He'll be in the lineup for Chris Kunitz, who is serving an NHL-levied one-game suspension following an illegal hit on Tampa's Simon Gagne in Game 3 on Monday.

For the Lightning, looks like Mattias Ritola will get the nod in the absence of Steve Downie, who was given a one-game suspension for an illegal hit on Pens defenseman Ben Lovejoy in Game 3.

Here were the lineups in warmups:

Lightning

St. Louis-Lecavalier-Thompson
Tyrell-Ritola-Hall
Purcell-Bergenheim-Moore
Gagne-Stamkos-Malone

Penguins

Neal-Staal-Kennedy
Tangradi-Letestu-Kovalev
Conner-Dupuis-Talbot
Rupp-Asham-Adams

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.20.2011 / 6:11 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

Victor Hedman has advice for Adam Larsson

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman not only completed his second NHL season this year but is now enjoying the frenetic pace that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In two seasons playing for MODO Ornskoldsvik in the Swedish Elite League prior to joining the Lightning in 2009-10, Hedman racked up 9 goals, 25 points, 96 penalty minutes and a plus-22 rating in 82 games.

As a rookie, he had 4 goals, 20 points and a minus-3 rating in 74 games. This year, he produced 3 goals, 26 points and a plus-3 rating in 79 regular-season contests. He led all Tampa defensemen with 23 assists, was second in points and fourth in plus-minus rating this season. Hedman has also averaged 91 blocked shots in two seasons.

It's been a tough grind, but Hedman admits he continues to learn on the fly and is more comfortable now than when he first broke into the League.

Hedman was asked to offer some advice for fellow countryman and highly-regarded 2011 draft prospect Adam Larsson what he might be up against following the Entry Draft in June. Hedman was the second overall choice by the Lightning in the 2009 Entry Draft. Larsson is expected to go in a similar spot, if not earlier this June 24 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

"Obviously, I wanted to come over (to North America) as soon as possible," Hedman told NHL.com. "As soon as I got drafted I wanted to come over and learn the game fast and that's the big key. I think, coming over from Europe and learning how to play on the smaller rinks and getting used to playing a lot of games and try to be on a high level was important."

It appears as though Larsson, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated European player, will likely return to Sweden to play for Skelleftea in the Elitserien next season.

"I don't know him personally, don't know him as a guy, but he seems very calm and poised out there so I don't think it'll be a big problem for him playing hockey in North America," Hedman said. "He's very good with the puck too, can play at both ends of the ice. He has to listen to what the experienced guys have to say to him and get in as much as possible, but still not change his game and learn."

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.20.2011 / 3:57 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay Live Blog

Penguins' Neal continues to push forward

Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos isn't the only player struggling to regain his scoring groove for his team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal is also looking to regain his touch around the cage.

Neal, who finished the regular season with 22 goals and 45 points and was acquired in a trade with the Dallas Stars on Feb. 21, has one assist in three playoff games.

"I don't think his health is a factor," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "The last game, with him on the doorstep, where he has the one that hits the post and he has another one that is denied on the power play with (Dwayne) Roloson's pad -- those are opportunities where he has been getting those chances and hasn't been able to bury them.

"The history says he's a streaky goal scorer, and he's put himself in position to have those chances. He's had good chances, but he hasn't scored those goals. I was betting he was going to score last game, so I think he's a guy who is on the verge of putting in goals for us."

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.20.2011 / 3:40 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay Live Blog

Sports psychology 101 by Guy Boucher

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher was dipping into his sports psychology notebook on Wednesday afternoon during the media press conference prior to Game 4 puck drop at St. Pete Times Forum.

Boucher, who has educational studies in four different fields, including sports psychology, was asked how he would replace a player like Steve Downie in the lineup.

Downie, of course, was suspended one game by the NHL on Tuesday following his illegal hit on Pittsburgh defenseman Ben Lovejoy in the opening period of Game 3.

"I don't want to replace him," Boucher said. "That's the mistake you make as a coach -- you want to replace the guy who's gone, but you can't. He's himself and he has some assets so if you're asking Sean Bergenheim to replace Downie, you're asking someone to do things he's not used to doing. I don't want Downie in the lineup tonight, I want Bergenheim to do his thing, (Dana) Tyrell to do his thing and (Nate) Thompson to do his thing."

When asked if his team needed to change anything in order to even this best-of-7 series at 2-apiece, Boucher shrugged.

"We don't want to be another team, we don't want to be something we weren't all year long," he said. "That's the key right now. When you face stress, you go back to your habits. So if you got bad habits, you're going to have bad habits in those games. We've faced a lot of adversity this year and we've acted extremely well. We've needed adaptation periods; it was never instinct because we don't have enough experience to get that but we've always adapted and bounced back.

"I think the players are very confident on getting on the ice and putting that game we need on the ice this time."

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.19.2011 / 6:40 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay Live Blog

Lightning winning special teams' battle; losing series

Despite the fact the Tampa Bay Lighting are winning the special teams battle and receiving better-than-average goaltending from veteran Dwayne Roloson, they find themselves down a game to the Pittsburgh Penguins in this best-of-7 Eastern Conference quarterfinal round.

Lightning coach Guy Boucher knows now is the time for his players to start producing 5-on-5.

"It's funny, I listen to the other coaches in the League talk about how it has to be special teams in the playoffs, but not in this series," Boucher said. "We're losing the series right now and are clearly winning the special teams battle in both penalty-killing (15-for-15) and power-play (4-of-11). But reality is they have guys like (Arron) Asham and those other fourth-line guys scoring goals every game while 5 on 5 and that makes a difference."

The Penguins have actually scored seven 5-on-5 goals from six different players in this series. The Lightning have gotten just two goals while 5-aside -- by Nate Thompson and Eric Brewer.

"Our guys haven't scored 5 on 5 every game, so right now (Pittsburgh) is a little sharper around our net 5-on-5 than we are around their net. Having said that, we're aware we're not going to score six goals while 5-on-5 either. If we do score one or two on the power-play, it has to be enough at home to win the game."

SERIES NOTE: The Eastern Conference quarterfinal-round Game 5 between the Lightning and Penguins at Consol Energy Center on Saturday has been scheduled for noon ES.

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Posted On Monday, 04.18.2011 / 9:26 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay Live Blog

Pens maintain 2-1 lead on Tampa after two periods

After combining for three goals in the opening period, the teams went scoreless in the second. It appeared as though each team wasn't willing to risk making a mistake and give its opponent an offensive opportunity. Both goalies were sharp throughout, though, with Roloson making his best save off a shot from the point by Michalek Zbynek with Chris Connor on the doorstep at 5:13.

The Penguins fourth line of Craig Adams centering Mike Rupp and Arron Asham has been Pittsburgh's best line in this series. In three games, the trio has accrued 3 goals, 5 points and a plus-9 rating. The play did get a little chippy in the final five minutes of the second when Steve Downie was whistled for delay of the game at 16:43, giving Pittsburgh its second power-play of the game.

The Lightning did deny the Penguins for the 15th straight time with the man advantage but not without some bit of assistance from veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson. He stopped a tip by Jordan Staal with his left pad following the ensuing face-off, before later turning back a big shot from the point by Kris Letang and Alex Kovalev's rebound attempt at the right post.  

Pittsburgh held a 9-6 advantage in shots in the second and maintain a 21-17 shot edge through two periods. Pittsburgh's Kris Letang has 5 of the team's 23 hits for the game and Lightning defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Pavel Kubina each have 4 of the team's 30 body checks.

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Quote of the Day

We think that Randy is a very good coach. Our players think that Randy is a very good coach. We think that he's going to get the most out of this group. With the addition of the two assistants, a bit of a different dynamic, we're very comfortable that this is a quality coaching staff that's going to maximize the potential of this team.

— Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis on head coach Randy Carlyle and his staff