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5 Keys: Penguins at Lightning, Game 4

Pittsburgh still needs to play with urgency; Tampa Bay needs better puck possession

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

TAMPA -- The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning play Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final at Amalie Arena on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The Penguins lead best-of-7 series 2-1.

Here are 5 keys for Game 4:


Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited his "Triplets" line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov in the third period of Game 3 on Wednesday and they combined for two goals in a 4-2 loss. After being outshot 89-49 in losing the past two games, the Lightning need an offensive spark. But Cooper seems reluctant to use the "Triplets" together for the full game because he wants balanced scoring from his four lines.

Cooper hinted he could use Palat, Johnson and Kucherov together in certain situations in Game 4. That's what Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has done with some effectiveness the past two games in picking his spots to use Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the same line. Maybe using the "Triplets" similarly will be enough. But Cooper shouldn't hesitate to rely on them more if the Lightning struggle to produce scoring chances again.

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm3: Johnson trims deficit on drop feed


The Lightning need a win to stop the Penguins' momentum or this series could be over in five games. The Penguins are feeling good about the way they've played in the past two games and don't want to give the Lightning any life.

"We have to match whatever we did last game," Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin said Friday. "Our intensity has to be there. You know they're going to come out flying and it's like that in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs. When you play a good game you have to make sure you're playing just as good the game after. Otherwise it's going to be tough."


The Penguins have been much better in this area the past two games after being sloppy with the puck in a 3-1 loss in Game 1. The Lightning's struggles in puck possession the past two games and has fed the Penguins' transition speed game with repeated turnovers coming out of their zone and through the neutral zone.

The Lightning have talked since Game 2 about wanting to have the puck more. Moving the puck quicker out of the defensive zone would be a good way to start.

"It seems we've been playing into their hands a little bit and into their forecheck," Lightning defenseman Matthew Carle said. "They do a good job of finding our [defensemen] and creating turnovers, so I think we just need to simplify things and focus on getting the puck out of our zone and get into our neutral-zone forecheck and try to create some turnovers."


The Penguins' third line of Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel has been so hot it has a nickname, HBK, and a sandwich named after it now (with ham, bacon and kielbasa) at the famed Primanti Brothers restaurant in Pittsburgh. The Lightning are learning what the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals experienced in the first two rounds; that line accounted for the Penguins' first two goals in Game 3 and has three goals and six assists in the series.

Video: Pittsburgh's Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel Line is on Fire

Kessel leads the Penguins in the playoffs with seven goals and 16 points, Bonino is third with 12 points and Hagelin is fourth with 11 points. Although Crosby (two goals, one assist in the series) and Malkin (ended six-game point drought with an assist in Game 3) remain the primary concerns for the Lightning defensively, Hagelin, Bonino and Kessel are driving the Penguins offensively.

"When you can go three and four lines deep, and it's something we've been able to do, it's a tough matchup for teams," Cooper said. "They're just another case. Plus they're feeling it too. They're in one of those playoff runs where they're feeling it. And when you are going like that good things are going to happen for you."


Penguins goaltender Matt Murray fought the puck at times again in the first two periods of Game 3 and left some rebounds in front, but the Lightning either didn't have anyone there to get to the loose puck or were unable to convert. The Lightning also haven't done enough to create traffic in front of Murray, who is seeing most shots without impediment.

Murray appeared to get some of his confidence back in the third period Wednesday, so the Lightning will have to do more to make life difficult for him.

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