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Injured or not, Stamkos needs to step up for Bolts

by Alan Robinson
CANONSBURG, Pa. --  His statistical line says forward Steven Stamkos isn't the same scorer he was during the season.

Four playoff games against Pittsburgh. No goals. One assist. That's not much production for a player, albeit a 21-year-old rising star, who lit up NHL arenas with 45 goals and 46 assists for 91 points during the regular season.

No wonder the Tampa Bay Lightning aren't taking advantage of the absences of injured stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and trail Pittsburgh 3-1 heading into Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Saturday at Consol Energy Center.

What Lightning coach Guy Boucher isn't saying is whether Stamkos is fighting through an injury that might be limiting his effectiveness. Stamkos didn't take part in an optional team practice on Tuesday or the optional morning skate on Wednesday.

Stamkos also wasn't on the ice when practice began Friday afternoon at the Iceoplex at Southpointe, where both the Penguins and Lightning worked out due to a comedy show at Consol. Stamkos jumped into drills a few minutes later.

Defenseman Eric Brewer didn't practice Friday, but Boucher wouldn't acknowledge any injury to him or to Stamkos.

"He's fine," Boucher said of Brewer, who has a goal and 3 assists.  "We're giving him a  rest because he's basically sleeping on the ice right now. We're giving him a rest, just like with Stamkos."

Tampa Bay's practice began a few minutes later than scheduled because of a birthday party that was staged at the  rink. Despite all this frivolity -- the Larry the Cable Guy/Jeff Foxworthy show at Consol, and the birthday party -- the Lightning's situation isn't a joking matter to them.

"We're in a do-or-die situation," forward Martin St. Louis said. "Early in the series, mentally, we were not quite there yet. We're there now."

To extend the series to a Game 6 on Monday -- and to extend their surprisingly good season -- the Lightning need to be better than they were during back-to-back 3-2 losses on home ice to Pittsburgh. That means Stamkos needs to be better.

Stamkos had a goal and 4 assists as the Lightning and Penguins split four regular-season games, but that production hasn't carried over to Tampa Bay's first playoff series in four years.

What the Penguins hope is that there's no carryover from Tampa Bay's last game in Pittsburgh, a 5-1 victory in Game 2.

"Their skills guys have been effective and gotten big goals for them," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "So I expect them to play their best in the next game. I expect them to be dangerous ... their skill players have the ability to step up."

Or the step that Stamkos has yet to take in his first career playoff series.

His co-stars, St. Louis (4 goals, 2 assists) and Vincent Lecavalier (1 goal, 2 assists) have fulfilled their roles,  and forward Simon Gagne has 4 assists.

Despite the Lightning's dire straits, Boucher pointed out that Gagne and goalie Dwayne Roloson played on teams that rallied from 3-1 deficits. Last season, Gagne and the Philadelphia Flyers  became the first team since 1975 to win a series after trailing 3-0 when they won four straight against Boston.

"It happened last year and I was part of it, so I know a little bit about it," Gagne said. "I remember pretty much everything. The thing is to go a shift at a time, minute by minute, and not look at what could happen in Game 6 or Game 7. We have to look at one shift at a time, one play at a time, first period, second period, third period. We have to go all those steps one by one, and not look too much ahead."

The Lightning had several promising scoring chances in the first overtime Wednesday before forward James Neal won it for Pittsburgh early in the second OT. That's how close the Lightning are to being tied 2-2 rather than being down 3-1.

Win again in Pittsburgh, like they did last week, and the Lightning believe the momentum in the series could change in a hurry.

"It's been done, you know," St. Louis said. "So it's not like it's impossible. It's just if we're willing to do the things that are going to get it done for us. You can't look at the hole we're in, you've got to look at the one game."

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