Penguins forward Eric Tangradi made his Stanley Cup playoff debut Wednesday.
By Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
TAMPA, Fla. -- This has been a season of firsts for Penguins left winger Eric Tangradi.
His first game in the NHL, first goal in the league, first concussion.
And, now, his first appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Tangradi filled the lineup void created when left winger Chris Kunitz was suspended for Game 4 of the Penguins' opening-round playoff series against Tampa Bay Wednesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.
And while Tangradi acknowledged beforehand that he expected to be nervous, he pointed out that his playoff debut hardly was his only new experience lately.
"It feels like every time I've played so far, it's had kind of that first-game feel," he said. "Being here opening night, then being sent down and called back up, then injured in the first game."
Kunitz is eligible to return Saturday for Game 5. The Penguins also have forwards Mike Comrie and Eric Godard available, and Nick Johnson (concussion) is close to being cleared to play.
Praise for Yzerman
In his rookie season as a player (1983-84), Steve Yzerman was runner-up for the Calder Trophy to Buffalo goaltender Tom Barrasso on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
His second rookie NHL season (2010-11), Yzerman oversaw a strong turnaround season in Tampa. That earned him a spot as one of three candidates for the NHL general manager of the year award.
"They've both been very exciting," Yzerman said. "My first year in the league as a player [with Detroit], I was eyes wide open. I was 18 years old. I really had a lot of fun.
"There's a lot of similarities [to now] -- a lot of new experiences. But it's been very enjoyable. I love the position. I love what I do. It's a great challenge. It's been, to this point, an exciting year, but I think there's some more excitement ahead."
In Yzerman's first season as general manager, the Lightning improved by 23 points over its 2009-10 total, had its second-best record (46-25-11) and tied a team record with 25 home wins.
Yzerman, who is Penguins star center Sidney Crosby's idol, has Tampa Bay in the playoffs for the first time since 2007 after adding winger Simon Gagne and defensemen Pavel Kubina and Brett Clark last summer, then acquiring defenseman Eric Brewer during the season.
"First of all, he's a winner -- and that's a big word," said first-year Lightning coach Guy Boucher, who was hired by Yzerman. "He's always trying to get better. He never acts as if he knows everything. He makes you feel like you're important. He makes you feel like your opinions have got some weight. He's one big reason why the organization feels like a family.
"In just one year, he turned it around. And that's leadership."
The other finalists are Mike Gillis of Vancouver and David Poile of Nashville.
Stamkos, Malone play
Forwards Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone were the only regulars to skip Tampa Bay's optional game-day skate.
Both were in the lineup, but there were questions about their health.
Malone missed most of Game 3, but played in the third period after an early collision with Penguins winger James Neal.
"He's OK physically," Boucher insisted.
Stamkos, who finished the season with 45 goals but struggled to score from about the midpoint, also sat out the practice Tuesday. He took a thundering hit from Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik early in Game 1.
Boucher said the consecutive days off the ice were just a matter of rest.
"It's good for him; it's good for the team," Boucher said. "I told him if he wanted to get on [the ice], he could get on, but I wouldn't go on if I was him. I guess he listens to his coach. That's good."
The Penguins also held an optional morning skate. Eight regulars did not participate. Crosby did. ... Tampa Bay also had a spot to fill with winger Steve Downie serving a one-game suspension. Boucher used forward Mattias Ritola, who was recalled a day earlier from Norfolk of the American Hockey League.