The recent history of the Pittsburgh Penguins hasn't been filled with many positives. That is changing in a very big way this season.
The Penguins look to add another accomplishment to their impressive season by ending an 11-game losing streak to the Tampa Bay Lightning when the teams meet Sunday at St. Pete Times Forum.
Although it is far from guaranteed, the Penguins (33-18-9) appear on their way to the franchise's first playoff berth since 2000-01, and are even challenging New Jersey for the Atlantic Division lead.
Pittsburgh had a 16-game point streak snapped Monday with a 6-5 loss to the New York Islanders, but rebounded Thursday with a 2-1 overtime victory at Florida.
Colby Armstrong's goal at 2:39 of the extra period gave the Penguins their seventh win in eight games and improved them to 15-1-2 in the last 18 contests.
Backup Jocelyn Thibault started in place of the struggling Marc-Andre Fleury and stopped 32 of 33 shots to win his third straight start.
"I've been working real hard all year, just waiting in the shadows, waiting for my chance," Thibault said. "When I get a chance to play I want to make the best of it."
Penguins coach Michel Therrien has been critical recently of Fleury, who has allowed four goals or more in each of his last five starts.
"That's a performance you need from your goaltender this time of year," Therrien said. "The guy between the pipes has to make key saves, and that's what Jocelyn did."
Clearly, Thibault's play warrants another start, but Therrien may not want to let Fleury sit too long.
Whichever goalie Therrien decides to start Sunday will try to help the Penguins post their first win against the Lightning since Jan. 17 2003. Pittsburgh has lost 11 straight (0-8-3) in the series, and has been outscored 22-4 during a five-game skid at Tampa Bay.
NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby and rookie teammate Evgeni Malkin each bring six-game point streaks into this contest. Crosby has one goal and nine assists during his run while Malkin has three goals and six assists in his.
Tampa Bay (35-25-3) failed to record at least a point for the first time in seven games Friday, allowing five consecutive goals in a 6-2 loss to visiting Boston. The Lightning, battling Atlanta for the Southeast Division lead, had been 5-0-1 in their previous six games.
"It's on my shoulders," Lightning coach John Tortorella said of the loss. "Some bad decisions by the coach. The way that team has played. The way they fought. The responsibility falls on my shoulders."
Tortorella also had some harsh words for referees Tom Kowal and Ian Walsh after enforcer Andre Roy received an automatic three-game suspension for abusing the officials. Roy made a gesture after departing the penalty box at the game's conclusion.
"I think if a little common sense comes into play and egos stay out of it, the ref would just leave it alone," Tortorella said. "It's the end of the game. It's a frustrating loss. I guess egos get in the way, so they have to make a big deal out of really nothing. It is what it is."
Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier extended his point streak to seven games with an assist. Lecavalier, who has six goals and seven assists during the run, is second in the NHL with 83 points, 13 behind Crosby.
Lecavalier has 12 goals in his last 12 games against the Penguins.