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Lightning-Penguins Series Preview

Posted by Webster Washington on 5/15/2016 4:30:16 AM

The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins square off for the NHL's Eastern Conference finals. Here's how the teams compare:

How They Got Here

The Lightning dispensed of Detroit in Round 1 and the New York Islanders in Round 2 in relatively easy fashion, winning each series in five games. And they did it without team leaders Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman.

The Penguins had a good series to beat the New York Rangers in five, but had a tougher time disposing of the regular season's best team, the Washington Capitals. They played three games in overtime, before clinching four games to two.

Offense

The Lightning had Nikita Kucherov make up the difference with Stamkos on the sideline. He's had nine goals in 10 postseason games. Tyler Johnson and Jonathan Drouin have also stepped up with a combined 22 points. Sidney Crosby and Evegni Malkin failed to provide firepower for the Pens in the last series, with four points between them. But the line of Nick Bonino, Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin has worked wonders. They have combined for 30 playoff points and scored all four goals in the clincher vs. Washington. Both teams' power plays have been solid.

Defense

With team leader Stralman injured, the Lightning have benefitted from the superb play of Victor Hedman. He's contributed at both ends, scoring nine postseason points and stopping opponents' scoring leaders cold. Goalkeeper Ben Bishop carries a 1.89 goals against average in the playoffs, and topped off the Islanders series with a shutout. Whatever lapses the Pens have shown, goalie Matt Murray has covered. He has fought off some fierce flurries and enters the series with a 2.05 GAA. Tampa Bay's penalty killing has been superb, while the Penguins have had their troubles.

Pick

Tampa Bay was 3-0-0 vs. Pittsburgh in the regular season, but both teams have come a long way since they last met, way back in February. The Lightning went to the Stanley Cup finals last year and are playing as well now. But Pittsburgh will have the home ice advantage, and that's a new challenge for Tampa. I don't think the return of key players, Stralman and Stamkos, would make that much difference for the Lightning. But for Pittsburgh, it is nice to have a star like Marc-Andre Fleury waiting if Murray has trouble in goal. Either team at a plus figure to win the series would be a decent play. I like Tampa Bay, and +149 to win the opener is too hard to resist.

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