PITTSBURGH -- With temperatures in the teens and the wind chill far below that -- yes, there was snow, too -- the Tampa Bay Lightning received a bitterly cold greeting when they arrived in Pittsburgh for Sunday night's game against the Penguins.
Not that they needed it. At least for a while longer, the Lightning are likely to retain very warm memories of Pittsburgh when they make their infrequent visits there.
Last spring, the Lightning rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the favored Penguins in their Eastern Conference opening round playoff series. They won each of the final two games in Pittsburgh, in a pair of couldn't-be-different contests -- a free-wheeling 8-2 decision in Game 5 and a tighter-than-tight 1-0 win in Game 7.
Sunday's game was the Lightning's first in Pittsburgh since that series, which marked only the second time in franchise history that the Penguins lost a playoff round in which they led 3-1. Tampa Bay went on to sweep favored Washington in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, then took eventual Stanley Cup champions Boston to seven games before losing the Eastern Conference Final.
The Lightning didn't have a morning skate in Pittsburgh after winning in Buffalo 2-1 on Saturday night behind Steven Stamkos' NHL-leading 37th goal. They will finish up a three-game, four-day road trip that began with a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
Still, the Lightning are 3-0-1 in their last four road games.
Stamkos has five goals during a six-game scoring streak, but he isn't the only Lightning player who is streaking. Martin St. Louis has six goals and 11 assists while scoring in 10 of his last 12 games, and Vincent Lecavalier has 10 goals and 23 points over 21 games.
While the Lightning's stars are leading a 7-1-2 surge over their last 10 games, star Evgeni Malkin has eight goals and seven assists as the Penguins have gone 7-2-1 in their last 10. Malkin had his third 5-point game of the season Saturday, netting a goal and setting up four others during an 8-5 victory over Winnipeg.
An admiring Guy Boucher, the Lightning's coach, said Sunday that Malkin looks “gigantic” at ice level the way he is playing these days -- much like former Penguins star Mario Lemieux did during his prime.
Forward Ryan Malone (upper body injury), a former Penguins player, was expected to play during this road trip after being out since Jan. 21, but Boucher said he will remain out for precautionary reasons. The Lightning don't want to take a chance that Malone will have a setback.
While Dwayne Roloson was in net during that first-round playoff series last season, Mathieu Garon made 27 saves while beating Buffalo and is 6-0-2 in his last eight, so Boucher plans to start him.
While the Lightning won't have long to experience the cold of a February day in Pittsburgh, they'll be back in less than two weeks -- on Feb. 25 -- to finish out the season series. The teams split the two games in Tampa, with the Lightning winning 4-1 on Nov. 17 but the Penguins earning a 6-3 win on Jan. 15.