Lightning-Penguins Preview

With Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin injured, the

Tampa Bay Lightning had to figure that if they could contain

Pittsburgh’s secondary scoring, they could win the teams’

first-round playoff series.

And indeed, the Lightning has had some success.

Alex Kovalev? One goal in four games. James Neal? One goal.

Chris Kunitz? Only an empty-netter. Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and

Pascal Dupuis? Nothing.

What the Lightning couldn’t have planned for is that

Pittsburgh’s fourth line would do so much damage. Led by Arron

Asham’s three goals, the unheralded line of Asham, Craig Adams and

Mike Rupp has been the Penguins’ secret offensive weapon as they

have built a 3-1 series lead heading into Game 5 at noon on

Saturday in Pittsburgh.

”Every year that’s the story,” Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher

said. ”Teams get guys that you never expect. They usually are the

guys that grind it out. Sometimes it’s a fourth-line guy or

third-line guy… It’s usually guys that battle so hard that they

out-battle the opponent. Asham has been doing that, and when you

watch the clips it isn’t luck. He deserves what he’s getting.”

After scoring only five goals in the regular season, Asham has a

goal in each of Pittsburgh’s three victories in the series as the

Penguins are one victory away from advancing to the Eastern

Conference semifinals for the fourth consecutive season.

The old story about the Penguins used to be that they were a

top-heavy team, too reliant on their stars for offense. This

series, Pittsburgh has turned that upside down. The so-called

fourth line’s four goals are more than any other unit; its six

points also lead the team.

”Because of what the fourth line has been doing on the ice,

they’ve earned… more minutes and earned that opportunity,”

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. ”Not only have they earned the

opportunity, but I’ve put them out in key situations after goals.

In Game 1 they scored the second goal right away. Those are

situations where the team needs momentum and a big shift. They are

put out there to provide that. They’ve done that and have been a

factor for us.”

Asham was a member of the Philadelphia Flyers last season when

they became only the third team in NHL history to come back from a

3-0 series deficit, beating the Boston Bruins in the second

round.

Lightning winger Simon Gagne scored the Game 7 winner last

season for the Flyers in that Boston series.

A team coming back from down 3-1 in a series to win is

considerably less rare, although the Lightning have never done

it.

”Once you go through something and at the end you win, you

understand that it’s possible to do,” Gagne said. ”I’m one

example. That’s what I said to the guys today – I know it’s

possible to do.”

Pittsburgh is 5-1 in series under Bylsma, but the Penguins have

lost all four games with him in which they’ve been at home with a

chance to close out a series. That led Bylsma to joke that his son

says he can’t win a big game at home.

Visiting teams are 19-14 this postseason, and the road team has

won the past three games of this series.

”You want your fans there and you want to be able to have that

last change at home, but it doesn’t guarantee you success in a

playoff game,” Bylsma said. ”You don’t get to move on until you

win four. Neither of us has gotten to that number yet.”

No team has won more series than Pittsburgh over the past three

seasons – a time span in which the Lightning failed to even qualify

for the playoffs.

The Penguins say that experience helps in the pressure-cooker

that is an elimination game.

”In your first playoffs, you underestimate it and maybe you’re

a little naive and kind of say, ‘Oh, experience doesn’t have that

much to do with it,”’ Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. ”But

it’s big this time of year… I think we learned that the hard way

three years ago against Detroit.”

Notes: Penguins C Sidney Crosby did not practice and went

through an off-ice workout as part of his recovery from a

concussion. After practice, he walked through the locker room,

smiling and giving encouraging taps to teammates. He did not speak

with reporters. … Lightning C Steven Stamkos was not on the ice

when practice began but did go through the workout. Also, D Eric

Brewer did not practice. Boucher brushed both off as just giving

guys extra rest. … Boucher said he would dress seven defensemen

on Saturday. … Pittsburgh LW Chris Kunitz and Tampa Bay RW Steve

Downie each will return to his team’s lineup after sitting out Game

4 due to suspension.