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Conference Final

Berube: Defense key for Penguins, Lightning

Former NHL coach says Pittsburgh's potent third line also could be deciding factor

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Speed. And lots of it. That's what former Philadelphia Flyers coach Craig Berube expects to see from the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, which starts at Consol Energy Center on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"I think it's a pretty evenly matched series," Berube said. "What I'm going to be watching for is the speed. Tampa is a fast team, and a real puck-control team. Pittsburgh is fast and they did a good job with the puck against Washington. It's going to be interesting to see how that works both ways. Both teams have the ability to score. They are going to get chances because they're both offensively gifted teams that love to play with the puck and move. That's why it's going to come down to who can defend better."

If the series comes down to puck management, keeping it in the offensive zone, cycling, grinding, Berube thinks that will favor the Lightning. 

"They do have really good speed, but a little bit more control than Pittsburgh," Berube said of the Lightning.

He said if the series becomes wide-open it favors the Penguins, not because they can't play a puck-control game, but because they might be slightly better than the Lightning when they play fast through the neutral zone.

"They're fast, but they play fast and that's the difference," Berube said of the Penguins. "We're really going to have to see which team can defend better in this series because both of these teams really like the puck and they're good with it. There's a lot of skill out there in this series."

Here is more of a position-by-position breakdown from Berube:


Berube said while Pittsburgh has three lines that can score and a checking line that can also play with speed, the Lightning, even without captain Steven Stamkos, who has been out with a blood clot, have two lines that can score and two checking lines that grind away and are good at keeping the puck in the zone.

The difference could be Pittsburgh's third line of Nick Bonino, Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel, which had 18 points on seven goals and 11 assists in the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Washington Capitals. The thinking here is that if that line produces, and the Penguins start to get offense out of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, it will be difficult for the Lightning to outscore them.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Bonino buries rebound to clinch series

Crosby and Malkin combined for one goal and three assists against the Capitals; the Penguins still won the series in six games and averaged 2.67 goals per game. Bonino's line had 12 points in the first round, but Crosby and Malkin combined for 15 and the Penguins beat the New York Rangers in five games, averaging 4.2 goals per game.

"Let's see how that Bonino line does this series," Berube said. "I don't think they would have advanced without that line doing what they did, so they're important."

Advantage: Even


Berube gave the Lightning the edge on the blue line with the idea that Anton Stralman would be in Tampa Bay's lineup. Stralman hasn't played since March 25 because of a fractured left leg. There's a good chance he'll return in Game 1.

"He's a very good player and he's going to really help Tampa a lot," Berube said. "He's an all-situations guy that eats up a lot of minutes. But him coming back, sometimes it takes a little bit to get back into it, and this will be very intense right away. It's not like coming back in the regular season."

Provided Stralman can step back in and be effective quickly, Berube thinks the Lightning will be stronger on defense than the Penguins because of their experience.

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

Between Stralman, Victor Hedman, Jason Garrison, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Sustr, Matt Carle and Nikita Nesterov (Lightning coach Jon Cooper likes to dress seven defensemen), they have 473 games of Stanley Cup Playoff experience.

There is a combined 254 games of playoff experience between Pittsburgh's eight defensemen -- Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Trevor Daley, Olli Maatta, Ian Cole, Ben Lovejoy, Justin Schultz and Derrick Pouliot. Letang (103) is the only one with more than 50 games.

"Pittsburgh has done a great job with their 'D', but I do give a slight edge to Tampa in that department," Berube said.

Advantage: Lightning


It is not yet known whether the Penguins' starting goalie will be 21-year-old rookie Matt Murray or 31-year-old veteran Marc-Andre Fleury. Murray has started nine straight games and is 7-2 with a .935 save percentage and 2.05 goals-against average. Fleury hasn't played since March 31.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said he would announce the starting goalie Friday.

"Look at it this way, Murray has got them there so far and he's done a great job so I don't really see any reason to change that," Berube said. "He looks very good and calm. He doesn't look like he gets rattled, and that's important in the playoffs because there's a lot of highs and lows. To stay even-keeled and come up big like he has, that's pretty good stuff."

So, like Berube, let's assume it is Murray in net for Game 1. He's already been good enough to beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, so who's to say he can't out play Lightning goalie Ben Bishop?

Video: TBL@NYI, Gm3: Bishop stones Martin, Clutterbuck

Bishop, like Holtby, is a Vezina Trophy finalist. Among the goalies who played at least two rounds so far, only Holtby (.942) and Bishop (.938) have better save percentages than Murray, who has allowed one more goal on three more shots in one fewer game than Bishop.

The only difference Berube could outline with Murray as the starter is experience. Bishop has played in 35 playoff games, including 25 last season, when he led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final. Murray has played in nine playoff games.

"Bishop has made the Stanley Cup Final, he's proven himself to be that kind of goalie," Berube said. "Murray is on his way to doing that it looks like. He's played very well. But Ben Bishop is just a proven guy."

Advantage: Even (with a caveat)

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