Pittsburgh Penguins (44-25-7-95) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (30-33-12-72)
09-10 Season Series: Penguins lead 2-1 09-10 Home vs. Tampa Bay: Penguins lead 1-0 All-Time vs. Tampa Bay: Penguins lead 32-25-8 All-Time Home vs. Tampa Bay: Penguins lead 18-8-6 Overtime: Penguins lead 3-2-8 Shootout: Penguins trail 0-2
Tampa Bay returned from the Olympic break in good position to sneak into the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff field, but they have sunken back to 14th in the conference following a 3-6-1 swoon. Barring a late miracle the Lightning will miss the postseason for a third consecutive season. 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. Since then Purcell has posted seven points (1G-6A) in 13 games flanking Vincent Lecavalier for most of that time. He has already surpassed the six points (3G-3A) he put up in 41 games with the Kings. 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, posting a 59.6 success rate in 25 games with the Lightning. Thompson has never been one to post high point totals but he is a responsible defensive player. He has eight points (2G-6A) in 64 games.
Steve Downie – Downie probably did himself no favors with Penguins fans following his collision with Sidney Crosby on March 14, but that play aside, the 22-year-old is developing into a solid goal scorer to compliment his agitating ways. Downie has scored in three of four games heading into Tuesday to notch his first 20-goal season. In addition to establishing career highs across the boards offensively, Downie ranks second on the team with 129 hits and third in the NHL with 202 penalty minutes. Downie also ranks second in the NHL with a 19.4 percent shooting percentage.
Ryan Malone – Malone’s reputation as a top-notch net-front presence was solidified with his play during the Olympics with Team USA. 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. Although he has missed the past two weeks with a knee injury, Malone has 21 goals in 65 games, the fifth time in his seven seasons he has hit the 20-goal plateau. He is tied with Evgeni Malkin and teammate Steven Stamkos for fourth in the league with seven game-winning tallies. Malone leads Tampa Bay with 169 hits.
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 fifth in the league with 87 points (27G-60A), and is actually scoring at a better clip than he did during the 2003-04 season when he led the league. He ranks fifth in the NHL with 60 assists. St. Louis is at his best when the Lightning are on the man-advantage. His 26 power-play assists lead the league while his 33 points on the man-advantage rank seventh.
Steven Stamkos – While the Lightning limp towards the finish line the second-year sensation continues to emerge as one of the league’s top performers. Only Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have more than his 45 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 20 and power-play points with 37. Stamkos has picked up three goals in his past four games entering Tuesday after a brief five-game goal-less drought. 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 35 points through 73 games, which projects to the lowest full-season total of his career. Tanguay has just one point over his past 10 contests.
Steve Downie Ryan Malone
Martin St. Louis Steven Stamkos
Kurtis Foster – Although his status for Wednesday night is in doubt following an undisclosed upper-body injury, Foster has been a revelation along the Tampa Bay blueline. 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 rarely make it to the NHL and struggle adjusting if they do. Hedman has been used in all situations for the Lightning, averaging 21:13 minutes per game, fourth-highest on the team. At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds with 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. Hedman has just two assists over his past 16 games prior to Tuesday while his last goal came on Jan. 6 at Buffalo.
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 29 points (7G-22A) in 126 games with the Lightning after picking up 35 or more points in all three of his seasons with Ottawa. His minus-15 rating is second-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 22:47 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 60 games.
Victor Hedman Mattias Ohlund
Antero Niittymaki – Niittymaki, who signed with the Lightning during the offseason after five seasons with Philadelphia, has had a solid season while splitting the netminding chores with Mike Smith. With 20 wins through Tuesday, the 29-year-old Finn is three victories shy of tying his career high set with the Flyers in ’05-06. Niittymaki was pulled from his last start in Buffalo on Saturday, but two days prior established a Lightning single-game record by stopping 47 shots in a victory at Boston. Niittymaki, who is 2-7 over his last nine decisions, stopped 37 of 39 Pittsburgh shots on March 14, suffering the hard-luck loss.
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
Vincent Lecavalier - Tampa Bay’s captain has been one of the bright spots the past few weeks for a mostly struggling Lightning team. Heading into Tuesday night he had picked up points in eight of 10 ten games (4G-4A) to move into the top-30 scorers with 66 points (22G-44A). Lecavalier hit the 20-goal mark for the 10th-consecutive season when he tallied against the Penguins on March 14. Lecavalier has notched three points (1G-2A) in three games against the Penguins.
"It's tough; it's depressing to be on the outside for the third year in a row now. But we'll fight until the end and see what happens. But it's going to be hard, and the biggest thing is if we don't get in, the feeling of failure, that's tough to accept." - Lightning forward Martin St. Louis talking to Yahoo! Sports about Tampa Bay’s recent struggles.
"If you don't show character in these games, you won't last long in this league. People look at that stuff. Who is going to show character and battle and just keep going no matter where you stand? It's all part of being a pro." - Lightning enforcer Todd Fedoruk speaking to the St. Pete Times on the need for the team to finish the season strong.
"It's unacceptable for us not to make the playoffs. We can't just shrug things off and say we gave it the old college try. We have to learn from our mistakes. If you have a child who touches something really hot and maybe doesn't burn himself, you still tell the child it's not what you're supposed to do. If you don't, then you have a problem child." - Lightning center Zenon Konopka talking to the St. Pete Times about the team deserving to be punished following a 7-1 loss to Buffalo Saturday night.
11-21-6 Tampa Bay took the NHL’s second-worst road record into Tuesday night’s contest at Columbus
85-64 The second period has been unkind this season to the Lightning. Tampa Bay has been outscored by 21 goals prior to Tuesday night during the middle frame