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Penguins expect to bounce back from loss

by Alan Robinson
PITTSBURGH  --  There are losses, and then there are bad losses. As far as Stanley Cup Playoff losses go, they don't get much worse than the Pittsburgh Penguins' 8-2 defeat at home to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

For the Penguins, it wasn't just the seven consecutive goals they allowed after dominating play for most of the opening 15 minutes. The four power-play goals permitted by what was the NHL's best penalty-killing unit during the regular season.  The numerous Lightning goals off rebounds that occurred in part because the Penguins couldn't move bodies out of the crease.  The 0-for-7 power play.

No, there wasn't much to like on Saturday -- and not much time to get it right again before Game 6 Monday night in Tampa, where the Penguins get a second chance to close out the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

"I think there are some emotional parts of losing a game 8-2 that are different than losing a game 3-2 in OT," coach Dan Bylsma said Sunday. "(It's about) regrouping.  Certainly, there are things we have to talk about and discuss."

What Bylsma might want to bring up is the Penguins' recent history of bouncing back in a big way from bad losses.

Since the 2007 playoffs, the Penguins have lost eight times by three goals or more in games other than a Game 7. They lost twice by four goals, once by five. But, in all but one instance -- a 4-0 loss to Detroit in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final -- they rallied to win the next game.

Any coach would take a 7-1 record during an eight-game stretch, much less one filled with nothing but disheartening  postseason losses.

Why are the Penguins so resilient -- including in this series, when they lost 5-1 in Game 2 at home, only to win the next two in Tampa?

Forwards Chris Kunitz and Mike Rupp point to their abundant leadership, and to goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's unwavering optimism.

"Usually our goaltender responds really well and he leads us, and it's something we're looking to do on Monday," Rupp said.

Fleury's attitude and confidence rarely seem shaken by even the worst of losses. A prime example: Despite being pulled during a 5-0 loss in Game 5 of the 2009 Final in Detroit, Fleury rallied the Penguins to the Stanley Cup by leading 2-1 victories in each of the next two games.

From the way Fleury was smiling Sunday following a short practice that preceded the flight to Tampa, it was almost as if the Penguins had won 8-2, not lost by that score.

"The longer you're around, the more you know you can't change yesterday," Kunitz said. "You've got to go out and prove yourself the next day. It takes a little bit of leadership, letting the guys who weren't here know it is possible. You don't want to let a team get on a roll, so we've got to go play our best game in playoffs (Monday)."

Like so many other series during an NHL quarterfinal round in which the road team won 23 of the first 39 games, the home team is having trouble. The Lightning are 0-2 on home ice, the Penguins 1-2.

However, the Lightning were 25-11-5 at the St. Pete Times Forum during the regular season, a statistic the Penguins can't overlook as they try to avoid playing a Game 7 at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday.

"The way we played those games (in Tampa), we kept them close, we stayed out of the penalty box and found a way to win," Kunitz said. "Our goaltender was great, but we let him down (in Game 5). We've got to go play a better defensive game, keep guys away from our net and keep sticks tied up."

They also might want to convert a power play or two. The Lightning are 8-of-22 (36.4 percent) with the man advantage to the Penguins' 1-of-25 (4 percent). During Sidney Crosby's injury absence, which began Jan. 6, the Penguins are a league-worst 21-of-168 (12.5 percent) on the power play.

"We didn't get any bounces, they were getting all the bounces. That's how it goes, " defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "When one team gets confidence, they get on a roll and they get those bounces and those lucky goals."

The Penguins also need  a better all-around game from Jordan Staal, who is serving as captain in the absence of the injured Crosby.  Staal has been limited to two assists and is minus-2 , not the kind of numbers expected from a top-line center.

While Bylsma doesn't expect Staal to be Crosby or Evgeni Malkin offensively, he needs him to be more like Jordan Staal – an adept penalty-killer, a suffocating defender, a look-to-me leader, a player who creates timely goals.

"Our team, how we play, and our emotions of our team, a lot of it, is through Jordan," Bylsma said. "The last game wasn't very good in a lot of regards, but now it's time to refocus and get on to Game 6. Jordan will be a big part of that for our team, and getting back to what we have to do and how we have to play to be successful."

Staal and forward Tyler Kennedy didn't practice Sunday, but Bylsma said each had routine maintenance days off.

The Penguins have squandered a 3-1 lead only once, in 1975 when they won the first three against the New York Islanders only to drop the next four.
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