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5 Keys: Lightning at Penguins, Game 1

Pittsburgh depending on rookie goalie Murray; Tampa Bay needs strong penalty kill

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning play Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final at Consol Energy Center on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Here are 5 keys for Game 1: 


This is how the Penguins were able to defeat the Washington Capitals in six games in the Eastern Conference Second Round despite getting four points combined from Sidney Crosby (two assists) and Evgeni Malkin (one goal, one assist), and it will be pivotal again in this series for both teams.

Pittsburgh's third line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel combined for seven goals and 11 assists, and the Penguins also got timely goals from fourth liners Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnhackl.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Hagelin deflects PPG past Holtby

It's unlikely Crosby and Malkin will be as quiet in this series, so the Lightning will need production from throughout their lineup. Without Steven Stamkos, who is sidelined because of a blood clot, Jonathan Drouin (one goal, eight assists) has stepped up to give Tampa Bay a solid second line with Ondrej Palat and Valtteri Filppula, and role players Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan have made timely contributions.


The Penguins and the Lightning have good speed and utilize it well. The Lightning play more of a puck-control game while the Penguins thrive off burning opponents in transition.

The Capitals weren't able to dictate the pace as much as they would have liked and allowed the Penguins to exit their end and get through the neutral zone with speed. If the Lightning do a better job of possessing the puck in the offensive zone and making the Penguins work to get it out, they will have more success.

"I think the biggest thing is you want to make sure you control the puck and you're not turning the puck over," Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn said Friday. "That leads to fast breaks and letting them have chances to really play fast. When you have the puck and you put it in spots where they have to go further and you're not setting yourself up to be out of position, I think that always helps to negate a little bit of speed."


In Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman and Pittsburgh's Kris Letang, this series features two elite defensemen who log heavy minutes in all situations and are capable of controlling the game. A lot of what both teams do well begins with these two players, so they likely will have a say in the outcome.

Video: NYI@TBL, Gm5: Hedman scores a pair in Game 5

Hedman has become even more important for the Lightning while Anton Stralman has been recovering from a fractured left fibula. Hedman was dominant in the second round against the New York Islanders with four goals and four assists in five games.

The Penguins have outscored opponents 22-9 with Letang on the ice in the playoffs and he has eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 10 games.


The 21-year-old rookie goaltender is one of the main reasons the Penguins have gotten this far. He outplayed Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers in the first round and Vezina Trophy finalist Braden Holtby of the Capitals in the second round. 

In nine Stanley Cup Playoff games Murray is 7-2 with a 2.05 goals-against average, .935 save percentage and one shutout. He wasn't as sharp, however, in the past three games, allowing eight goals on 94 shots (.915 save percentage), and he left some rebounds in front that the Capitals weren't in position to convert. 

Although veteran Marc-Andre Fleury is ready to play after recovering from a concussion, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan is staying with Murray, who has impressed him with his composure.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Murray stops Burakovsky's breakaway

"I just think Matt has the ability to stay in the moment," Sullivan said. "He doesn't get overwhelmed by the circumstance or the drama. He loves to play. He loves to compete and he stays in the moment. He has the ability to respond the right way to some of the adversities during the course of a game, or the course of a number of games for that matter."


The power play was a major weapon for the Penguins in the first round (8-for-21) and came to life in the final two games against the Capitals (3-for-5) after going 0-for-14 in the first four games.

If the Penguins get hot again with the man-advantage it could be a problem for the Lightning, who were 14-for-18 (77.8 percent) on the penalty kill against the Islanders. The Lightning also weren't great on the power play in the second round (3-for-20) and are 7-for-43 (16.3 percent) in the playoffs.

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