In yet another matchup between two teams that got to know each other quite well in last season’s Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins each come into tomorrow’s matinee looking for two points.
The Penguins, coming off a win in Sunrise Friday night to end a six game losing skid, bring to this matchup an array of talent, though they are still missing defenseman Kris Letang (concussion) and captain Sidney Crosby (also with a concussion). For them, everything begins with Russian winger Evgeni Malkin but it doesn’t stop there. They also boast a line that features James Neal, who is around 20 goals thus far this season, and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury who, though he has his rough nights, is continually among the league’s elite when it comes to save percentage and goals-against average.
The Lightning, meanwhile, are in an 0-5-1 slump but their play, especially last night in Washington, makes you think that they deserve better than the record indicates. The key will be the first period, a period in which the Lightning have been outscored 2-0 in their previous three games, all losses though Tuesday against the Canucks was a shootout loss.
The Lightning boast some lethal weapons of their own on offense, with 21-year old Steven Stamkos leading the league with 30 goals, six ahead of Toronto’s Phil Kessel, and Vinny Lecavalier leading the Bolts scoring. Martin St. Louis is right up there also, with a double digit goal total, even after missing two weeks after taking a puck to the eye in early December.
On defense the Lightning, without their top two defenseman, Mattias Ohlund (still recovering from offseason knee surgery) and Victor Hedman, and possibly without Marc-Andre Bergeron who missed Friday’s game in Washington with an upper-body injury, will rely on veterans Pavel Kubina and Eric Brewer to keep things close. Both have been pulling more than their share lately but Kubina has really stepped things up with Hedman’s absence.
Finally, in goal, the Lightning must make a choice. Starter Dwayne Roloson played well in a loss to the Caps and in relief of Garon against the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night. His record, however, makes it a tough choice. Garon has been struggling though recently (he did play 12 consecutive games for us not too long ago so that can be expected) so I’m just going to guess that Roloson will get the start. Either way, the team MUST show up, and stay out of the penalty box, especially in the first period to avoid putting him, or Garon if he starts, in a bad situation early on.
All in all, this should be a good game. I expect the Penguins to be ready, as I’m sure they remember the end of last season and the earlier meeting, a 4-1 Lightning win, this season. If the Bolts can weather the early storm they have as good a chance as anyone. If not, well then we might be looking for something else to do.
That’s all for now folks and remember: Game time is at 1pm at the newly renamed Tampa Bay Times Forum. Be ready and BE THE THUNDER!!!
Contact me, Lauren Burg, @TBLightning491 and Bolts by the Bay, @Boltsbythebay, on Twitter.