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Bolts gear up for first playoff game in four years

by Brian Compton /
LIGHTNING (46-25-11) at PENGUINS (49-25-8)


Last 10: Tampa Bay 7-3-0; Pittsburgh 8-2-0

Season Series: The teams split four games during the regular season. The Lightning won the most recent matchup, a 2-1 decision on March 31 at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Big Story: It's Game 1 of a best-of-seven series that the Penguins are going to have to play without captain and superstar Sidney Crosby, who has been out since January with a concussion. While No. 87 is skating with the club, he hasn't been able to take the next step in the rehabilitation process. It's a huge blow for Pittsburgh, which still managed to finish the season with 49 victories and secure home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Pens are also without Evgeni Malkin, who is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery.

"There is no change in Sidney Crosby's status," Pens coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday. "The fact that he's practicing with the team has not changed his progression. He's not been able to progress to the next standpoint yet. In terms of it being a full practice, he's not participating in the contact portion of the drills. The players are aware of that and know to stay away from him in practice."

Team Scope:

Lightning: Tampa Bay is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007, as it finished fifth in the Eastern Conference under first-year GM Steve Yzerman and rookie coach Guy Boucher. The Bolts finished the regular-season strong, winning seven of their final eight games.

"We're in a good place right now," said center Vincent Lecavalier, who helped the franchise win its lone Stanley Cup championship in 2004. "This year, we really felt that it was different. It was a different approach. Just a different culture they were building here."

Penguins: Pittsburgh is also entering the playoffs on a high note, as Bylsma's club won 12 of its last 16 contests and eight of 10. The Penguins received some good news this week as they learned gritty forward James Neal will be available after missing  Sunday's game with a groin injury.

"I knew I would be good to go," said Neal, who had just one goal in 20 games after arriving via trade from Dallas. "A few days rest before playoffs never hurts. I am ready to go now."

Who's Hot: Lecavalier finished the season with 30 points in the final 29 games, which included 9 power-play goals. … Pens forward Mike Rupp has scored in back-to-back contests.

Injury Report: Tampa Bay is expected to be without Randy Jones (ankle). … Besides Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins are also expected to be without Nick Johnson (concussion).

Stat Pack: The Bolts finished the season third in the East in goals (247) and with the top power play in the East (20.5 percent). … Despite missing the final three months of the season, Crosby still ended up leading Pittsburgh with 32 goals and 66 points.

Puck Drop: "We know what we're getting ourselves into. I think both teams have some strong weapons, strong defenses, and strong goaltenders, for that matter. At the end of the day, it's going to come down to who wants it more. Who plays with more desperation. Who is going to sacrifice." -- Lightning center Steven Stamkos

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