Hockey Night In Canada Stanley Cup Playoffs 2011

Fleury the focus as Game 7 draws near

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

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Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has already played in a number of big playoff games for Pittsburgh, and he'll add another to the list on Wednesday night. (Eliot J. Schechter/Associated Press) Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has already played in a number of big playoff games for Pittsburgh, and he'll add another to the list on Wednesday night. (Eliot J. Schechter/Associated Press)

He would, Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said Wednesday, have preferred to have this evening off.

Makes sense, since that would have meant Pittsburgh already had locked up a spot in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Instead, because Tampa Bay earned victories in Games 5 and 6, the Lightning and Penguins will meet in Game 7 Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET at Consol Energy Center, where Tampa Bay is 2-1 in this series.

"It would have been nice to have gotten it done earlier," Fleury said after Pittsburgh's game-day skate. "But now we are here, I think it is a big game for everybody here and for their team, also. These games are always very intense and very exciting. It should be fun to play."

And Fleury's work could go a long way in determining how it plays out. He has had some sensational moments in the series, like a shutout in Game 1, but has not been on top of his game at others.

That inconsistency mirrors his history in Game 7s; Fleury's last-second stop on Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup final was an iconic moment in that series, but he was pulled from Pittsburgh's Game 7 loss to Montreal in Round 2 the following year.

Nonethless, both coaches insist they expect him to be at his finest.

"I'd be shocked if that's not Fleury's best game," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "I think he's going to come out with an incredible game where he's going to be almost unbeatable."

Whether Boucher had an ulterior motive for discussing Fleury in such glowing terms is hard to say. Suffice to say, Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma did not.

"He's a big part of the confidence we have," Bylsma said. "In the past, he's shown his colors in these games. He's won some games for us, made the big save. He's shown he's a big-time goaltender. He's our team MVP for a reason."

Mum's the word

After Game 6, Boucher accused Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik of trying to gouge the eye Tampa Bay centre Steven Stamkos during a third-period scrum.

Stamkos has steadfastly refused to confirm or deny whether it happened, and Orpik said he was unaware of the accusation until Wednesday morning.

Suffice to say, though, Orpik didn't hold back when asked if Boucher's charge had any merit

"It's disappointing," Orpik said. "You try to play against their skilled guys as hard as you can, try to make it miserable for them, but that's kind of a childish accusation.

"There was kind of a little wrestling match on the ground, with a couple of headlocks. I don't know where that [charge] came from.

"That's [Boucher] probably just trying to pull attention from the [Ryan Malone hit to the head of Pascal Dupuis] or something else, or just trying to start something going into Game 7. It's disappointing and childish on his part."

Who'll step up?

Game 7s have, more often than not, produced unlikely heroes, and Boucher said after his team's morning meetings - only a few Tampa Bay players actually skated Wednesday - that he was reluctant to predict who on his squad might be the one to come through in a clutch situation tonight.

"I've found over this past year that it's been a different guy almost every game," he said. "I think the last thing I would want to do is pinpoint anybody that would have all the pressure to make the big play.

"I think it's a team game and that's what the beauty of a team sport is, that you don't know who's going to come up big. I certainly don't think that has to be Vinny [Lecavalier] or Marty [St. Louis]. It has to be everybody. It's a flag that has to be carried by everybody, including goaltenders."

On the rebound

One of the keys to Tampa Bay's success in this series has been its ability to generate rebounds, and then convert them into goals.

Cutting down on the number of such chances the Lightning gets tonight will be a priority for the Penguins.

Doing that successfully, defenceman Paul Martin said, will require improvement in a number of areas.

"It's a little bit of everything," he said: "Making sure we have their guys tied up, and our sticks ready to clear the rebound. Forwards being ready to come down to help, and [Fleury] kicking them into the corner. A lot of things."

Teammate Ben Lovejoy noted that, according to Pittsburgh's coaches, Tampa Bay had just eight even-strength scoring chances in Game 6, which is an acceptable number. He agreed, though, that limiting the Lightning's second-chance opportunities will be critical.

"We don't play man-on-man, but you need to have your head on a swivel and be aware of everybody in the zone," he said. "If a rebound does come, you have to be right on the guy's stick.

"We know exactly what they're coming with. We haven't been at our best the last two games."

Confidence growing

Some of the young Lightning players who were non-factors early in the series - Stamkos is prominent on that list - have had more and more of an impact as it has played out.

"Early on, they got their feet wet but then we got down, 3-1, and you have to grow pretty fast," veteran winger Martin St. Louis said. "You have to learn and grow pretty fast, and I think we've done that.

"We're handling surges much better. We're a little less in panic mode, more [focused] on getting back momentum. You need poise to do that."

Tampa Bay has shown lots of that while fending off elimination in Games 5 and 6. Tonight's game will be the first opportunity to see if Pittsburgh can do the same.

"This is a new situation for them," defenceman Victor Hedman said. "I hope we can take advantage of that."