Hockey Night In Canada Stanley Cup Playoffs 2011

Fast start vital for Pens, Lightning

Categories: PIT vs. TAM, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning

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Lightning star Steven Stamkos (91) knows his team will need a fast start in order to stave off elimination Monday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press) Lightning star Steven Stamkos (91) knows his team will need a fast start in order to stave off elimination Monday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

Any number of variables could determine the outcome of Game 6 between Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh Monday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m., ET) at the St. Pete Times Forum.

A strange bounce off the glance. A marginal call by the officials. A seeing-eye shot from long distance.

But if precedent means anything, the Game 6 winner will be determined by which team gets the first goal.

That, after all, is how the first five games of the series have played out.

"Our series, it's 'First goal wins,' " Lighting winger Steven Stamkos said after the Tampa Bay's pre-game meeting Monday. "That just puts the emphasis on [having good] starts."

Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said he believes it is "a big deal" that the team scoring first is 5-0, in part because of the momentum that often comes with getting on the board first.

"The thing that's even more evident is that there is an emotional response that's gone with first goals or getting successive goals that's happened in this series," he said.

Obviously, both the Lightning and the Penguins would like to open the scoring in Game 6. Just as obviously, it's not possible for both teams to.

Consequently, one of them is going to be challenged to maintain its composure and focus, and not allow the adversity to snowball.

"The reality is, like we told our players, we can't change our game if the other team scores the first goal," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.

"[The problem comes when] you either panic or the other team gets confidence and then you don't react well. That's our job, to react well.

"We have to be mature about the game. I can't believe that if the other team scores the first goal tonight, we can't win the game. That would be ridiculous."

Quick-strike capabilities

Pittsburgh scored two goals in 18 seconds in the third period of the series opener. Two games later, the Penguins got a couple in 45 seconds.

Then, during Tampa Bay's 8-2 victory in Game 5, the Lightning scored a pair of goals in 46 seconds, another in 89.

Both clubs, it seems, have shown a quick-strike capability that can determine the course of a game in the span of just a few shifts.

"It's been weird," Pittsburgh right winger Arron Asham said. "I'm not sure what it is, but we're hoping next game it goes our way."

Road-game mentality

Tampa Bay, in an effort to reinforce a road-game mentality among its players, put them up in a local hotel Sunday night.

Somewhat surprisingly, though, team officials declined to even acknowledge it had been done, let alone to discuss the thinking behind that move.

One, when asked about it in casual conversation, responded, "I don't know what you're talking about," and Boucher refused to discuss the subject when it was brought up in his game-day meeting with reporters.

"We do different things, and we do them for different reasons," he said. "When the playoffs are over, we can certainly discuss all kinds of reasons why we do things. But during the playoffs, we kind of like to keep it within the team, what we do."

Stamkos, though, offered some insight on management's thinking.

"You just try not to get any distractions," he said. "You're at home and it's tough. A lot of guys have families and kids. We just tried to make it feel like we were on the road again."

Tampa Bay, of course, has earned both of its victories on the road.

Unsung players get high praise

Pittsburgh's fourth line, which has Craig Adams playing between Mike Rupp and Asham, has gotten a lot of praise and recognition during this series, and rightly so.

Among other things, those three have generated five of Pittsburgh's 12 goals, despite getting relatively limited ice time.

But the Lightning's blue-collar forwards have done some quality work, as well, and no one has been more effective in such a role than Sean Bergenheim.

"He's been a warrior," Boucher said. "That's what he was all year. In big games all year, he stepped it up. In bigger games [during the playoffs], he's stepped it up even bigger. We certainly need our guys to be able to step it up."

Pens struggle with power play

Pittsburgh's power play sputtered through most of the regular season, and hasn't exactly gotten on track during the playoffs.

It enters Game 6 with one goal in 25 tries, a less-than-anemic conversion rate of four per cent.

Tampa Bay, not surprisingly, figures that the Penguins' struggles with the extra man are mostly a reflection of quality work done by the Lightning while short-handed.

"Our penalty-kill has been awesome," goalie Dwayne Roloson said. "They're doing everything humanly possible to get in front of shots and get pucks out of our end when there's been time to get it out. Give them a lot of credit. They've been amazing."