Hockey Night In Canada Stanley Cup Playoffs 2011

Lightning prepare for comeback attempt

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

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Tampa Bay forward Simon Gagne, right, has been part of a 3-1 comeback before. (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images) Tampa Bay forward Simon Gagne, right, has been part of a 3-1 comeback before. (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

Maybe it wouldn't mean as much coming from another guy. Perhaps it would come across as empty bravado, or a brazen attempt to ignore reality.

But when Tampa Bay winger Simon Gagne talks about how the Lightning can overcome its 3-1 deficit in a first-round series against Pittsburgh, you have to listen.

Because Gagne has been part of a team that did it. Did a lot more, actually.

He was playing in Philadelphia last season when the Flyers lost the first three games of a second-round series with Boston, then ran off four consecutive victories to become just the third team in NHL history to pull off such a comeback.

"It's something that's possible to do," Gagne said Friday. "It's happened before. I was part of it."

And that means he has a pretty good idea of how his teammates will have to approach Game 5, set for 12:08 p.m. Saturday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

"You go a shift at a time, minute-by-minute and don't look at the end of the game," Gagne said. "Don't look at what could happen in Game 6 or Game 7. We have to look at one shift at a time, one play at a time.

"We have to (take) all those steps one by one, don't look too much ahead."

The Penguins obviously have an upper hand in the series, with that 3-1 edge and two of the remaining three games on home ice, but insist they're braced for the Lightning's best effort of the series.

"We have to come our with our best effort, because we know that they will," defenceman Zbynek Michalek said. "We have to match that."

The road team has won three of the four games to date, and has gotten the better start in all four. Not surprisingly, both sides sees playing well early as a key to having Game 5 turn out in their favour.

"We need to put doubt in their minds, right off the bat," Pittsburgh left wing James Neal said. "We're going to try to come out and try to let them know that they don't have a chance."

Gagne, meanwhile suggested that getting the first goal could be critical and, indeed, the team scoring first has won each of the first four games.

"If you can get that, especially when you're on the road, that's the best way to start the game," Gagne said. "But that might not happen. They might score that first goal, and make that crowd even louder."

This will be the fifth time since Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien as coach that Pittsburgh is in position to close out a playoff series on home ice. So far, the Penguins are 0-for-4.

"Home ice is something you want," Bylsma said. "You want your fans there. You want to be able to have that last change. But it doesn't guarantee success in a playoff game."

And winning three of the first four games in a series doesn't guarantee a spot in the next round, as Gagne and his former teammates discovered last spring. And which is why the Lightning is not ready to concede anything to Pittsburgh just yet.

 "We don't feel down," Gagne said. "We feel confident that we can do it."

Bergeron or Jones?

Lightning coach Guy Boucher said Friday that he plans at least one significant lineup switch for Game 5: He will dress seven defencemen and just 11 forwards.

He did not identify the forward who will not dress of which extra defenceman will, although Marc-Andre Bergeron is the leading candidate, with Randy Jones also a possibility.

Dressing seven defencemen is neither a radical nor an unusual move for Boucher, who did it routinely during the regular season and believes that his personnel is well-suited to such an approach.

"If you have high-end players, they love the tempo of it because they're on the ice more often," Boucher said. "You don't really have a fourth line anymore.

"You have an opening now, and [Martin] St. Louis plays on it, [Vincent] Lecavalier plays on it, Gagne plays on it and [Steven]Stamkos plays on it. It's never the same guy, so they don't get tired, but they get more ice time.

"[Dressing] seven, sometimes a specialist can play on the power play and the minute you get a defenceman injured or in the penalty box or not playing well, you don't go down to five. You're still down to six. Basically, over the years, it's what I've found to be a good formula for the way I coach."

Not just a 4th line

Boucher described Pittsburgh's No. 4 unit of Mike Rupp, Craig Adams and Arron Asham as "the line that's winning this series right now."

"They're tough to handle," he said. "They work hard, they're big boys and they're quick to get to pucks.  Those guys, we have to do a better job against them, for sure."

The line has accounted for four of the Penguins' 10 goals in the series so far - three of them by Asham - and Bylsma suggested he's likely to give it some extra work as the series goes along.

"It's not a temptation," he said. "It's a need, maybe, to get them a little more of an opportunity. In the extra session [in Game 4], we were basically rolling four lines, and we were doing that because of what the fourth line was doing on the ice.

"They've earned that. They've earned more minutes. Not only have they earned the opportunity, but I've put them out there in key situations, after goals in Game 1 where they go out and end up scoring the second goal right now.

"In situations where our team needs momentum, needs a big shift, they've been put out there to provide that. They've done that and been a big factor for us."

Kunitz, Downie return

Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz and Lightning right wing Steve Downie, both of whom were suspended for Game 4, should be back in their respective lineups for Game 5.

Kunitz, who will move into his usual spot with Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy, made it clear today that the sting of having to spend such an important game in street clothes still hasn't passed completely.

"I know I put myself in a bad situation and our team in a bad situation," he said. "It's something I don't want to do."

At least Kunitz got to watch a victory. Downie had to sit through his team losing for the third time in four games.

" "It was real tough [to watch]," he said. "It would have been a lot easier if we won. It was tough, but you have to deal with it and move forward."

High noon

There's every reason to believe that having Game 5 start at noon could have an impact on the outcome.

It's just difficult to predict what that might be, or which team will benefit from the early start.

"It's going to be the same for both teams," Gagne said. "If you asked all the guys - and I'm sure that if you asked [the Penguins] too - it's different. You have to prepare yourself a little bit differently, because it's an early game."

The team that handles the adjustment best, Gagne figures, is the one that will win.

"The team that wakes up the earliest in the game is going to play a lot better," he said. "I've seen it sometimes where, in a 12 o'clock game, one team is still sleeping. It will take them 20, 25 minutes to wake up and get the system going.

"The team that's going to be able to make it happen really early in the game is going to have a better chance to have success."