PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Since the regular season ended, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher has preached that desperation is what wins playoff series.
Boucher doesn't need to tell his team that anymore. Now, the Lightning have no choice but to be desperate.
If Boucher was attempting to motivate his team to play as if every game in the series was do-or-die, Tampa Bay faces a literal must-win in Game 5 at noon on Saturday in Pittsburgh. The Lightning trail the best-of-seven series 3-1.
"We have to move forward," Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier said after James Neal's double-overtime goal gave Pittsburgh a 3-2 Game 4 win in Tampa on Wednesday.
"That's part of the playoffs, and we talked before the series how it was going to be an emotional rollercoaster. You have to make sure you handle it the right way. There's nothing we can do now, just make sure we're ready to go and get a win in their building."
Tampa Bay has already done that once in this series, responding from a 3-0 loss in Game 1 by taking a 3-0 first-period lead and cruising to a 5-1 win at Consol Energy Center in Game 2.
Afterward, some Pittsburgh players indicated that the Penguins perhaps took too much from the Game 1 victory and were taking the Lightning too lightly. After all, this is Tampa Bay's first playoff appearance in four years and the Penguins have played in two of the past three Stanley Cup finals, winning the Cup in 2009.
Pittsburgh answered its only loss of the series by winning consecutive road games, out-shooting and out-chancing Tampa Bay in both.
"In Game 2, we didn't have that (attention to detail) and lost a little bit of focus," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "We lost that opportunity to go up 2-0. We learned from that situation a little bit and learned and understood what we didn't do well in Game 2. We've talked about that for 3 and 4, and we'll certainly talk about that again going into Game 5."
The eventual winning team has scored the first two goals in each of the games in the series. The Penguins had 2-0 leads during both Game 3 and Game 4 in Tampa only to have the Lightning come back to tie it before Pittsburgh won each by 3-2 scores.
In what might seem counterintuitive with the home crowds in loud buildings, the visiting teams have generally controlled the first periods during the series, outscoring the home team 7-1 and holding a 46-35 advantage in shots.
Other than Game 2, Tampa Bay has not held a lead at any point in the series and has been behind at the end of the first in each of the past two games.
"I know there are a lot of emotions flying up and down, but we have to be better in the first," veteran defenceman Pavel Kubina said. "That's how you win games."
Winger Martin St. Louis has almost single-handedly kept the Lightning in the series, factoring in six of their nine goals. He leads all players in the series in points and goals (four), giving him 27 in 49 career playoff games.
The 35-year-old had both of Tampa Bay's goals in Game 3. He gave the Lightning a boost when they were dominated through almost two full periods in Game 4 by scoring with 2:44 left in the second to cut the Penguins' lead to 2-1. He assisted on Sean Bergenheim's tying goal with 3:17 left in regulation.
"I can't find any words for what he's doing out there," Boucher said of St. Louis. "He's a machine out there."
Bylsma agreed with the assessment.
"He's a guy that it takes every bit of every second to make sure he's off the scoresheet," he said.
Even with St. Louis' offensive effort, a power play that is the best of any Eastern Conference playoff team (26.7 per cent) and a goalie in Dwayne Roloson who has the third-best save percentage (.943) of any goalie in the playoffs, the Lightning still are facing elimination on the road on Saturday.
Bylsma isn't letting the Penguins think that way. Desperation is what wins playoff series, remember?
"There is not a person in our room that thinks that this is over or is going to be easy," Bylsma said. "I think we have a good understanding of how dangerous that team is over there. To watch their goalie make 50 saves (in Game 4), its tough to think it's going to be easy at any point in time.
"We're well aware of that and we will do everything we can to make sure our focus is there for Game 5 like it has been and avoid some of the mistakes we made in Game 2."
Notes: Bylsma reiterated a familiar refrain that there is no timetable for star C Sidney Crosby's return. Crosby (concussion) did not work out on the ice Thursday, but Bylsma indicated that should not be interpreted as a setback. He has not played since Jan. 5 and is not expected back during the series. ... Bylsma would not comment on the nature of an apparent injury Neal is playing through.