Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-5-85) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (28-27-12-68)
09-10 Season Series: Series tied 1-1 09-10 Away vs. Tampa Bay: Penguins trail 0-1 All-Time vs. Tampa Bay: Penguins lead 31-25-8 All-Time Away vs. Tampa Bay: Penguins trail 13-17-2 Overtime: Penguins lead 3-2-8 Shootout: Penguins trail 0-2
Tampa Bay is currently in a dog fight with six other teams in a race for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Lightning have 68 points on the season, four fewer than Boston, which currently holds the final spot. Tampa Bay is looking to qualify for the postseason for the first time since bowing out of the 2007 postseason in the conference quarterfinal. Lightning head coach Rick Tocchet, who won a Stanley Cup as a player with the Penguins in 1992, is in his first full season behind the bench after taking over last year just 16 games into the season.
Teddy Purcell – The 24-year-old Purcell was a big-time point producer for Manchester of the American Hockey League the past two seasons, but had trouble cracking a deep forward corps in Los Angeles. Tampa Bay acquired Purcell from the Kings at the trading deadline in exchange for Jeff Halpern and he has looked great his first five games playing on a line with Vincent Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay. Purcell has picked up four points (1G-3A), nearly matching his offensive output (3G-3G) he posted in 41 games with Los Angeles. Two seasons ago Purcell notched 83 points (25G-58A) in 67 games with Manchester.
Nate Thompson – Tampa Bay claimed Thompson off waivers from the New York Islanders on Jan. 21. Since then he has given the Lightning solid minutes as the team’s third or fourth line center. He is good on faceoffs, ranking third on the team with a 57.1 winning percentage. Thompson has never been one to post high point totals but he is a responsible defensive player.
Vincent Lecavalier – Lecavalier had a tough start to the season in the goal scoring department, tallying just twice in his first 17 games, but has recovered since to score 17 times over his next 50. However, this does mark the third-consecutive season the former Rocket Richard Trophy winner has seen his goal totals trending downwards. When Lecavalier is at the top of his game he can be difficult to move off the puck with his 6-foot-4 frame. Lecavalier also has one of the best wrist shots in the business.
Ryan Malone – After watching Malone perform for Team USA at the Vancouver Games one can argue that he is the top net-front presence in the NHL at the current time. Malone tallied three times and picked up five points in six games for the Americans, helping them earn a silver medal. It was the continuation of the great regular season Malone is having for the Lightning. He has 21 goals in 65 games, the fifth time in his seven seasons he has hit the 20-goal plateau. Malone leads Tampa Bay with 169 hits, 55 more than second-place Steve Downie. Martin St. Louis – Year after year people expect the 5-foot-9 dynamo to begin showing signs of decline, and with each passing season it seems as if St. Louis just continues to improve. He ranks fourth in the league with 81 points (24G-57A), and is actually scoring at a better clip than he did during the 2003-04 season when he lead the league. St. Louis is also plenty durable, missing just two games the past seven seasons. He has 80 or more points now in four consecutive seasons and five of his past six. St. Louis and linemate Steven Stamkos have formed a chemistry as good as any duo in the league.
Steven Stamkos – If the NHL had a most improved player award Stamkos would win it by a mile. In just one season the 2008 No. 1-overall pick has gone from fourth-liner to fifth-leading scorer in the NHL with 80 points. Only Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have more than his 42 goals. Stamkos is at his best on the power play, where he likes to set up on the left side of the ice in a similar spot to where Ovechkin lines up. He leads the league in power play goals with 18 and power play points with 33. Earlier this season he became the third-youngest player in NHL history behind Crosby and Ilya Kovalchuk to record 100 points. If the Lightning qualify for the postseason, he deserves mention as an MVP candidate.
Alex Tanguay – When Tanguay was younger he could be counted on to bang home 25 goals and 80 points a season. His scoring touch has vanished a bit recently as his goal scoring totals look as if they will drop for a fifth consecutive season. Tanguay has picked up just nine goals and 34 points through 66 games, which projects to the lowest full-season total of his career. Still, Tanguay can be a creative playmaker and at age 30, should still have a few good years ahead of him.
Vincent Lecavalier Ryan Malone
Martin St. Louis Steven Stamkos
Kurtis Foster – What an acquisition Foster has proven to be for Lightning general manager Brian Lawton. Foster had missed most of the past year and a half following a gruesome leg injury, but has recovered to be arguably Tampa Bay’s most consistent blueliner. The 6-foot-5, 223-pound Foster has used his big shot from the point to lead all Lightning defensemen in goals, assists and points. At 28-years-old, Foster is entering the prime of his career.
Victor Hedman – Last June’s No. 2-overall selection in the NHL Entry Draft has been fairly solid in his first season, and that in and of itself is impressive considering 19-year-old defensemen usually struggle adjusting to the pro game. Hedman has been used in all situations for the Lightning, averaging 21:27 minutes per game, third-highest on the team. At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds and good wheels, Hedman should be one of the top two-way blueliners for a long time. His game has been compared to that of Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom. Although his overall game has remained pretty consistent, Hedman has just four assists over his past 21 games.
Andrej Meszaros – Two seasons into his Lightning career Meszaros is still looking to get back to the level he displayed with the Ottawa Senators his first three NHL seasons. When Meszaros is playing at the top of his game, he can make life pretty miserable for opposing forwards with his physical play and shot-blocking ability. Meszaros has picked up just 28 points (7G-21A) in 118 games with the Lightning after picking up 35 or more points in all three of his seasons with Ottawa. His minus-17 rating is the lowest on the team.
Mattias Ohlund – Tampa Bay added a perfect mentor for Hedman when they signed the 33-year-old Ohlund away from the Vancouver Canucks over the summer. An alternate captain for the Lightning, the 6-foot-4 Ohlund is a fundamentally sound two-way performer who logs a team-best 22:55 minutes of ice time per game. Ohlund represented Team Sweden in Vancouver last month for the fourth time in his career, scoring once in four games. He has yet to find the back of the net for Tampa Bay, picking up 13 assists in 59 games.
Victor Hedman Mattias Ohlund
Antero Niittymaki – Niittymaki was close to heading overseas to play this season before changing his mind and signing with the Lightning following five seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers. The decision has proved to be a good one for the 29-year-old Finn. Expected to serve as Mike Smith’s backup, Niittymaki has been solid all season long, earning a split of the No. 1 job. His 2.70 goals-against average and .913 save percentage are the best figures of his career. With 18 victories he is just five away from tying his career high.
Mike Smith – Tampa Bay acquired Smith at the trading deadline from Dallas two seasons ago with the hope he would be the team’s goaltender of the future. At 27-year-old, there is still time for Smith to develop. He was on his way to establishing himself last season, posting career highs with 14 wins and a .916 save percentage, but concussion injuries plagued his second half. It has been a struggle for him to get back to last season’s level this year, although he did stop 25 of 26 shots in defeating the Penguins back on Jan. 2.
Antero Niittymaki Mike Smith
Steve Downie - While Steven Stamkos’ emergence as a bona-fide superstar has grabbed much of the attention in the Sunshine State, his linemate, Steve Downie, has begun fulfilling the promise that caused Philadelphia to select him 29th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Known primarily as an agitator heading into this season, Downie is showcasing his all-around abilities with career highs across the board: 18 goals, 22 assists and 40 points. He also leads the Lightning with a plus-18 rating. Downie’s maturation into a scorer has not taken away from his ability to be a nuisance on the ice. He ranks second in the NHL (behind teammate Zenon Konopka, 202) with 190 penalty minutes and is second on the team behind Ryan Malone with 114 hits.
“He is one of those guys we are really going to have to keep an eye on. He has that spot on the power play where he likes to rip shots from similar to where (Alex) Ovechkin is on Washington’s power play.” - Penguins defenseman Alex Goligoski on Lightning forward Steven Stamkos.
"In the fight we are in, especially after just getting one point in Toronto, we need to get two (points). Now we just have to get a streak, we have to make sure we play Pittsburgh and come out the same way." - Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier speaking to Yahoo! Sports following Tampa Bay’s 3-2 victory over Washington Friday night.
"It's definitely reachable, the way things are going. It's definitely in the back of my mind. It would be special." - Lightning center Steven Stamkos talking to Tampa Bay’s official team website about his chances at becoming the third-youngest 50-goal scorer in NHL history.
4-1 The Penguins have gone 4-1 over the past three seasons at the St. Pete Times Forum
57 Since recording a hat trick against Chicago on Feb. 17, 2009, Steven Stamkos has scored 57 goals over his past 95 games