PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Pittsburgh Penguins have the edge in playoff experience. Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher sees it differently, saying that the Lightning have played in more Game 7s this season.
Two, in fact—both in this series.
“For us, it’s been a Game 7,” Boucher said Tuesday. “We’ve been playing Game 7 hockey for the past two games, and we’re not about to change our attitude.”
The Lightning won each of the last two games while facing elimination, coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to tie the best-of-seven first-round series at three games apiece.
Game 7 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, and this time—for the first time this post-season—the Penguins will know that a loss means the end of their season.
“We would have taken it in five or six, but we knew we were playing a good opponent,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “We knew they would respond. We knew they are a hardworking group. We know what they’re good at. We fully expect to be entrenched in a battle with Tampa Bay.”
The Lightning haven’t even had to get into too much of a battle in winning the past two games at Consol Energy Center. In winning Games 2 and 5 there, Tampa Bay outscored the Penguins 13-3.
During a playoff season in which the road teams have won more often than those at home, will the venue matter?
It hasn’t over the history of the Penguins’ franchise. They are 2-5 in Game 7s at home—they’ve won all five they’ve had on the road—including losing 5-2 to Montreal in Game 7 of the second round last season, the final game ever played at the Civic Arena.
“We’ve won in this building, and that’s a good thing because we have that confidence coming in,” Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos said.
Only a handful of Tampa Bay players have experience playing in a Game 7. Pittsburgh has been in three over the past two post-seasons, including winning both en route to taking the Stanley Cup in 2009.
“None of us are even thinking about what happens if we lose right now,” Penguins defenceman Paul Martin said. “That shouldn’t even enter your head. We know we’re in our own building here and we know what’s made us successful thus far and what we’ve done to win games. I think we need to focus on staying positive and doing the right things, and the outcome will take care of itself.”
The Lightning are preaching a similar mantra.
Boucher was pleased with how his team did not allow what he considered to be a Pittsburgh scoring chance over the final 10 minutes of Game 6 on Monday.
“We’ve been facing elimination the last two games and we came out each game with the right frame of mind and the structure was really good,” Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier said. “We’ve just go to continue that.”
Tampa Bay also figures to continue to approach killing penalties the same way it has after the Penguins have scored only once in 30 power-play opportunities.
Pittsburgh’s power play ranked 25th in the NHL during the regular season—and it got worse as the season went on. But the unit’s quarterback, defenceman Kris Letang, shrugged those numbers off.
“I think over six games we have like 26-27 scoring chances on our power play,” he said. “It’s just a question of bounce. Sometimes you just get a lucky goal or a lucky bounce and it goes in, and we don’t talk about the power play anymore.”
The Penguins’ power play surely would be better if Sidney Crosby was on it. Crosby hasn’t played since Jan. 5 due to a concussion, but that hasn’t stopped Boucher from saying he prepares for Pittsburgh as if Crosby will be in the lineup.
“I always thought he’d show up at some point… I’m always expecting them to throw him at us,” Boucher said.
That is extremely unlikely, but maybe just the presence of their famously superstitious erstwhile captain rubs off on the organization. Bylsma is wearing his lucky suit, and the Penguins’ longtime anthem singer will be back for Game 7 after the previous two losses when a fill-in sang.
When it comes to Game 7 in hockey, anything goes.
“I feel thesame way about routines as I do with the way our team is going to play Game 7,” Bylsma said. “I’m confident our team knows how to play (Wednesday’s) game. I’m confident that they know how we need to play to have success.”
Notes: Stamkos politely refused to address a report that Penguins D Brooks Orpik tried to poke his eye during a scrum in the third period of Game 6. … Despite the availability of Consol Energy Center and an apparent option to practice in the morning at home before its flight to Pittsburgh, the Lightning practised Tuesday at the same suburban rink they did the day before their 8-2 victory in Game 5. … As expected, neither coach would directly address possible lineup changes.