Lightning (46-25-11, 103 Points) at Penguins (49-25-8, 106 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (7-3-0); Pittsburgh (8-2-0)
Season Series: The two clubs split the four-game series during the regular season, with the home team winning each contest. Tampa Bay took the first and last meetings, both at the St. Pete Times Forum, while Pittsburgh won each of the two games in the middle at CONSOL Energy Center, which hosts Game 1 between the teams tonight.
The Big Story: The two clubs are meeting in the playoffs for the very first time. After being absent from each of the last three postseasons, the Lightning are skating in their first playoff game in four years and the first since enduring a first-round exit to the New Jersey Devils at the end of the 2006-07 season. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is making its fifth consecutive playoff appearance after losing in the second round last season to Montreal in seven games. Both teams come into tonight with a lot of momentum resulting from a strong regular-season finish, as the Lightning concluded the 2010-11 campaign with seven wins in their past eight games, while Pittsburgh won eight of its last 10. Tampa Bay also has all of its players healthy for the first time in a long while, however the status of Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby is still questionable and the Penguins will undoubtedly be without Evgeni Malkin, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 19.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay travels to Pittsburgh to play Games 1 and 2 at the CONSOL Energy Center before opening up the home portion of its first-round series next Monday and Wednesday at the St. Pete Times Forum. The Lightning have won seven of their last 10 games and finished the regular campaign with two straight victories, including the season finale on Saturday at Carolina. Six different players scored for Tampa Bay, including Martin St. Louis, who ended the season on a nine-game point streak and finished second in the league with both 99 points and a career-high 68 assists. Steven Stamkos also scored his 45th of the season, which ranked only behind Corey Perry for the league lead. Head coach Guy Boucher told the media Tuesday afternoon prior to the team’s departure that he expects the first-round bout to be a grinding series and one with potential to even go seven games.
PENGUINS – Pittsburgh will host Games 1 and 2 in its own arena after clinching home ice advantage by nature of having the fourth seed. The Penguins proved all those wrong who doubted their chances when both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were lost to injury, as Pittsburgh not only surged through the final 10 games of the regular season, but also challenged the Philadelphia Flyers for the Atlantic Division crown right up until the final day of the season. Pittsburgh finished off the regular campaign with four straight wins, with its only previous loss prior to that stretch coming against the Lightning in a 2-1 Tampa Bay victory on Mar. 31. During the four-game win streak, the Penguins had scored four or more goals in each contest. Pittsburgh is also coming off a record-setting season in which it posted the second-highest points total in team history, as well as the franchise’s second-highest win total. Tonight’s game will mark the third consecutive season that the Penguins will play as the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed.
Who’s Hot: Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis finished the 2010-11 regular season with a nine-game points streak, in which he totaled five goals and 14 points in that span. Vincent Lecavalier also scored a goal in each of the final four games of the regular season for Tampa Bay and Ryan Malone has notched a goal in each of his past three contests. Pittsburgh’s Tyler Kennedy is looking to carry a four-game points streak into the playoffs, while Eric Godard, Mark Letestu and Mike Rupp each come into Game 1 having scored points in two straight to conclude the regular campaign.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – None. PENGUINS – Sidney Crosby (concussion, questionable), Evgeni Malkin (knee, out for season), Dustin Jeffrey (knee, out for season) and Matt Cooke (suspension).
Notable Quotable: “It’s opportunities missed. It’s momentum. It’s just finding a way. Hopefully, it happens next game. You just have to keep on being optimistic. You just keep shooting. It’s bound to go in. You just hope it turns around heading into the playoffs.” – Steven Stamkos, on his desire to start scoring again.