Penguins vs. Lightning Preview

My magical trip home to enjoy Pirate baseball came to an end. As I returned to school in Athens, Ohio, another sport near and dear to the sports fans of the Steel City is ramping up for the playoffs.

The Penguins’ mad dash at the last second to steal the Atlantic Division away from the Philadelphia Flyers came up short, so they ultimately had to settle for the number four seed in the Eastern Conference. They will play the young and very talented Tampa Bay Lightning. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Key Matchup: Penguins defense vs. Tampa Bay offense

Since the loss of Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins have been able to maintain their position in the standings with good defense. They will face a tough test from the potent Lightning offense that features two of the top 5 scorers in the NHL in Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos. The Penguins will have to keep up the intensity in their own zone, something they are more than capable of doing.

Player that will have to step up: James Neal

I know a lot of people give me crap for doubting him but hear me out. The Penguins will need to score goals. Neal had 21 goals and 18 assists when he was acquired at the deadline as a means of replacing the scoring that was going to be lost from the Penguins’ fallen stars. He has scored just one goal and tallied five assists in black and gold. Don’t get me wrong, he’s done a lot to get the team here, but he’s going to have to start scoring sooner or later.

Player that will step up: Marc-Andre Fleury

The playoffs have brought out the best and worst in the Penguins’ number one netminder, but he’s been locked in most of this season, and his shaky beginning to the year is far, far behind him. If the Penguins make a deep run, he will be the key reason. If think otherwise, look at many of the teams that do. They all had hot goalies.

The Penguins will win if: Keep on keeping on

They certainly haven’t won many pretty games since the injury bug has bit, but it seems that they always ¬†get just enough to pull out the victories. They are playing very well as a team, and that is very important come playoff time.

The Penguins will lose if: They play undisciplined

The Penguins have developed a nasty habit of playing down to their competition at times throughout the season. The Lightning is a team with a deadly power-play that will strike if the Penguins find themselves in the penalty box too much.

Prediction: Penguins in 6

This series isn’t going to be a cake walk, however, the experience and defense are in the Penguins favor, two factors that usually lead to success in the playoffs.