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Preview: Penguins at Lightning

“No cause for panic” - Jon Cooper...

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins (17-7-3) at Tampa Bay Lightning (14-12-2): GAME 29

Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida

Broadcast/Streaming: Sun

Opponent SBNation Site: Pensburgh

Preview:

If I’d told you at the beginning of the season that in December, the Penguins and the Lightning would sit at the opposite ends of the eastern conference for point totals, would you have believed me? Today, the Pens sit at 37 and the Bolts at 30. It isn’t drastic, but the way both teams have been playing lately makes it feel drastic.

Many thought that the Bolts’ recent four game break would give them time to relax, recoup, and get back on track. After a 5-1 loss to the Canucks on Thursday night, it seems that the break was not what many fans hoped for.

During the off-season, press and fans alike were picking the Bolts as favorites to win the Stanley Cup. After Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos’ signings it seemed like the team would finally be able to capitalize on the contracts, utilize the many deep playoff runs of the last few years, and go on to win.

The Bolts have struggled mightily throughout the last few weeks. Stamkos’ injury definitely seemed to deflate some moral throughout the locker room, but a lot of the players were a part of the run during Stamkos’s last leg injury. So what separates that experience and the present?

Through 28 games last year the Pens were 15-10-3. Obviously that is slightly better than our 14-12-2 but I think it is proof that things change throughout the season. The Pens got hot towards the end of last year’s regular season and were able to carry their strong play into the playoffs, beating the record-best Washington Capitals and go on to win the cup.

Remember, it’s a long season. Hey, did I mention that its a long season? I can’t stress that enough. Defense has been a major concern this year and ultimately the team chemistry and individual responsibility of players have been lackluster. Yet I still believe in Coach Cooper and the product the Lightning have been able to put together.

Some numbers and more thoughts

Nikita Kucherov and Sydney Crosby both lead their teams with 29 points on the season. The Penguins have scored 24 goals in their last four games. The Bolts are going to need strong play from up-and-coming defenseman Slater Koekkeok to have a shot — Oh he got sent down? Damn. Well let’s hope the dream duo of Jason Garrison and Andre Sustr are able to produce. And let’s hope the boards don’t continue to trouble Ben Bishop, as they currently have 3 on him for the year. The Bolts will also need to call upon the wondrous #Toddsquad-caliber power play of earlier in the year.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Alex Killorn - Vladislav Namestnikov - Nikita Kucherov

Jonathan Drouin - Valtteri Filppula - Brayden Point

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Joel Vermin

Cedric Paquette - Brian Boyle - J.T. Brown

Ryan Callahan

Defensive Pairings

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralmann

Jason Garrison - Braydon Coburn

Andrej Sustr - Luke Witkowski

Goaltenders

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Pittsburgh Penguins

Forward Lines

Conor Sheary - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist

Carl Hagelin - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel

Chris Kunitz - Nick Bonino - Bryan Rust

Scott Wilson - Matt Cullen - Tom Kuhnhackl

Defensive Pairings

Brian Dumoulin - Kris Letang

Olli Maatta - Trevor Daley

Ian Cole - Justin Schultz

Goaltenders

Matt Murray

Marc-Andre Fleury