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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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Posted On Monday, 04.18.2011 / 8:32 PM

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

Pittsburgh opens 2-1 lead in opening period of Gm 3

The Pittsburgh Penguins stole a page out of the book of the Tampa Bay Lightning in opening period of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal round matchup at St. Pete Times Forum on Monday night.

For once, they came out with the quick start en route to grabbing a 2-1 lead through 20 minutes in the process.

The Lightning pared the deficit to 2-1 on a power-play goal by Martin St. Louis at 15:19 of the opening period. Simon Gagne skated with the puck to the side of Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury before throwing a pass in front. St. Louis took one stab at the disk before backhanding a shot between the goalie and the post.

The Penguins opened a 2-0 lead on goals by Maxime Talbot at 5:46 and Arron Asham just 45 seconds later. Talbot's goal came off a transition following a tremendous body check by Tampa Bay's Steve Downie on Ben Lovejoy behind the Penguins cage. Instead of rallying the Lightning, however, the hit fired up the Penguins as Talbot eventually grabbed the loose puck and skated hard down his right wing before unleashing a wrist shot from the right circle that beat Roloson to the short side.

Asham's 8th career playoff goal came off a 2-on-1 breakout with Michael Rupp. After banking a pass to himself along the right wing half boards, Rupp spotted Asham streaking down the opposite wing and feathered a pass underneath a Tampa Bay defenseman. Asham easily snapped his attempt past Roloson for the two-goal lead.

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Posted On Monday, 04.18.2011 / 7:50 PM

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

Lightning - Penguins pregame Gm 3 lineups

The teams just completed pregame warmups here at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa Bay and the fans in attendance are already clamoring their Lightning-logoed rally drums.

Lightning coach Guy Boucher had center Steven Stamkos on multiple lines in Game 2 -- as high on the top line, in addition to some checking-line duties.

In warmups on Monday, Boucher had the following lines established to open Game 3. I wouldn't count of them remaining this way though.
Nate Thompson-Sean Bergenheim-Dominic Moore
Vinny Lecavalier-Martin St. Louis-Simon Gagne
Steve Downie-Dana Tyrell-Adam Hall
Teddy Purcell-Steve Stamkos-Ryan Malone

Earlier in the day, Stamkos spoke about his recent scoring struggles (5 goals in last 25 games).

"It's something that has been prolonged for my liking, but at the same time I've picked up other aspects of my game that are going to need to be there to be successful in the playoffs so I'm happy where those parts of my game are at," Stamkos said. "Now I'm just trying to find a healthy combination of the both to move forward and help this team win."

Penguins pregame warmup line combinations included:
Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy-Chris Kunitz
Alex Kovalev-James Neal-Mark Letestu
Chris Conner-Pascal Dupuis-Max Talbot
Michael Rupp-Arron Asham-Craig Adams

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Posted On Monday, 04.18.2011 / 4:25 PM

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

Fleury prepared for Lightning strike

Pittsburgh goalie Marc Andre Fleury is sure of one thing: The Tampa Bay Lightning are going to come out flying in Game 3 of this series that shifts to St. Pete Times Forum in the Sunshine State on Monday.

"They played a pretty similar style in both games in Pittsburgh, coming out hard, playing fast and getting off a good start," Fleury said. "They come in a lot to the net, going for tips, rebounds and screens. That's something we expect once again.

"Their forwards are fast; they come back quick and we have to be aware of that," Fleury added. "Now being home, we expect that same thing."

Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis knows the team must match that intensity or else it could mean a long night.

"It's playoffs so you have to match intensity because if you don't, you won't win," Dupuis said. "They have come hard at us the first two games at home and I don't see why they wouldn't try to do the same thing here in front of their fans so we do have match that intensity. We do have to manage the puck better in the first … I don't like to say whether the storm, but they will come out hard and we know that."

Defenseman Paul Martin feels the Pens just need to maintain their aggressiveness on the puck.

"In Game 2, we weren't able to establish much of a forecheck and that hurt," Martin said. "It's a desire and mindset and commit to doing the little things. Get the pucks in the right areas to help our forwards get in there and establish that forecheck and get pucks to the net."

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