Stanley Cup Playoff Preview-Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

BUFFALO, NY - APRIL 05: Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates in on Jhonas Enroth #1 of the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena on April 5, 2011 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

We interrupt this Sabres/Flyers coverage to breakdown the rest of the Eastern Conference Playoffs.  Today's installment looks at the matchup that is 4) Penguins vs. 5) Lightning.  Make sure you vote after the jump on who you think will win this series.

Series

Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay split four contests, winning two apiece. The Pens outscored the Bolts 17-8, but most of that came in an 8-1 drubbing on January 5, 2011. The Lightning won the last contest on March 31st, 2-1.


Schedule 

Wednesday, April 13 at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m.

Friday, April 15 at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m.

Monday, April 18 at Tampa Bay, 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, April 20 at Tampa Bay, 7:30 p.m.

*Saturday, April 23 at Pittsburgh, TBD

*Monday, April 25 at Tampa Bay, TBD

*Wednesday, April 27 at Pittsburgh, TBD

*If necessary

Forwards

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are arguably two of the top ten players in the game today, but the Pens are expected to be without both for this series, though Crosby has begun skating again and could return. Neither their importance-both still ranked in the top five on the team in forwards scoring (Crosby led in goals with 32) despite playing only half the season-nor the magnitude of their loss can be overstated. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh still has talent up front. Jordan Staal (11/19/30), too, only played half the season; but he has come on strong down the stretch. Chris Kunitz (23/25/48) and Tyler Kennedy (21/24/45)-who tied for second on the team with seven power play goals each-look to continue to contribute.

Tampa Bay has excellent depth among its forwards. The Lightning are paced by their big three: captain Vincent Lecavalier (17/34/51), youngster Steven Stamkos, who finished second in the league by potting the puck 45 times, and the diminutive Martin St. Louis who had a team leading 99 points, including being the NHL's second best helper (68). But they have five other forwards who contributed 30+ points this season as well, including former Sabre Dominic Moore, former Penguin Ryan Malone, and Steve Downie who was a team best +8.

Edge: Lightning. Without Crosby and Malkin, Pittsburgh's "no-name" group of forwards can't compete with the Bolts' explosive forward unit.

Defense

The Penguins have a solid core of defensive defensemen, though Kris Letang emerged as a quarterback on the power play (20 PPA). Brooks Orpik, a key component to the Pens Stanley Cup run, plays a very physical game (194 hits and 94 blocked shots). Zbynek Michalek (5/14/19) and Paul Martin (3/21/24) the clubs top shot blockers (149 and 129 respectively) were two offseason acquisitions that helped replace the departed Sergei Gonchar.

Tampa Bay's defensemen are solid throughout as well. They have a nice mix of veterans like Brett Clark (9/22/31, including 17 PP points and a team leading 157 blocked shots), Pavel Kubina (4/19/23), and Mattias Ohlund (second on the team in hits with 135). Their most talented D-man, though, is the towering-but still raw-20 year old Swede Victor Hedman (3/23/26).

Edge: Even.

Goaltender

Minding the nets for Pittsburgh is the 2003 NHL Draft's 1st overall pick, Marc-Andre Fleury. After a rough start to the season, the "Flower" settled in and posted a 2.32 GAA, good for seventh-best in the league and also a .918 save % which was tied for tenth of those goalies who started at least 55 games. His record on the season was 36-20-5. Backup Brent Johnson actually posted better numbers (13-5-3/2.17/.922).

Like the Capitals, the Lightning had three goaltenders start at least 20 games for them this season: former Sabre Dwayne Roloson, Mike Smith, and the since departed Dan Ellis. The 41 year-old "Rollie" has enjoyed more success, numerically speaking, going 18-12-4 with a 2.56 GAA and a .910 save %.

Edge: Penguins. Fleury may not have played at an elite level this season, but he certainly is the better netminder in this series, especially considering his vast playoff experience.

Prediction

If Crosby and Malkin were playing, Pittsburgh might sweep the Lightning.  While Stamkos and Co. will light the lamp enough to make this a competitive series, the Pens will ultimately prove that they have the mettle and the experience to get the job done. Penguins in 7.

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