Lightning (46-25-11, 103 Points, 5th East) at Penguins (49-25-8, 106 Points, 4th East)
Eastern Conference Quarterfinal:Series tied 3-3.
Regular 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 between at CONSOL Energy Center.
The Big Story: Facing elimination and the possibility of a potential first-round exit, the Lightning enjoyed a statement game in Game 5 Saturday in Pittsburgh and another in front of the raucous home crowd in Game 6 Monday night to force a decisive seventh game at the CONSOL Energy Center tonight. Tampa Bay is vying to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2004 postseason when it went all the way in capturing Lord Stanley’s coveted cup. With a win tonight, the Bolts can accomplish something that just three of 40 teams since the lockout have done, which is win a postseason series after being down 3-1.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay will fight for its playoff lives for the third straight game tonight as the series shifts for the final time this evening in a decisive Game 7 contest at Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center. Head coach Guy Boucher has repeatedly stated his disbelief in momentum from game to game, but the Bolts certainly have it coming into tonight’s game. The Lightning are coming off two big, high-scoring statement games which have allowed them to get this far, including Monday’s 4-2 win in Game 6 in front of the raucous crowd at the St. Pete Times Forum. The Bolts quickly reversed the trend of the team scoring first finishing the game victorious, as Pittsburgh hopped out to a 1-0 lead, but was countered with goals by Tampa Bay’s Teddy Purcell and Sean Bergenheim. Steve Downie and Ryan Malone also scored for the Bolts to finish off the game with a pair of goals. The Lightning penalty kill was again superb, eliminating all five Pittsburgh power play chances on the night.
PENGUINS – Pittsburgh couldn’t close out the series Saturday afternoon on home ice after dropping the Game 5 contest 8-2 to the Lightning, and it failed again Monday night in Game 6. Pittsburgh now faces a much-unexpected decisive game after surrendering a 3-1 series lead. The Penguins got out to a hot start, scoring first and suffocating Tampa Bay in its own defensive zone. They couldn’t catch the breaks though, much like the Lightning couldn’t in Game 1. Kris Letang hit a goal post in the third, Chris Conner mishandled the puck while skating down to complete a penalty shot and Marc-Andre Fleury allowed four goals on just 21 shots. If the Penguins want any chance of advancing into the second round, they will have to figure out how to correct an anemic power play, which has converted just one of 30 chances in the series.
Who’s Hot: Tampa Bay’s Teddy Purcell has a goal and five points in the past three games of the series and captain Vincent Lecavalier has assists in four straight games. Simon Gagne also has a pair of goals and a helper in his past three contests for the Bolts. Pittsburgh’s Maxime Talbot has three assists in his past two matches, while Jordan Staal has a goal and an assist in his past three games.
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: “We just played two Game 7s because that has been the position we have been in. That fifth game was a do or die for us and this sixth game was a do or die for us. The seventh game is no different. We just played two.” – Guy Boucher, on his mindset entering tonight’s Game 7 showdown in Pittsburgh.