For the Penguins, winning a playoff series at home is elusive


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The Penguins have accomplished an awful lot in Dan Bylsma's two-plus years as coach.

They have won a Stanley Cup, of course, and put up the second-highest point total in franchise history.

But there also are things they haven't done since Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien. Like win a playoff series at home.

Four times, they've tried. Four times, they've failed, the latest being a humbling loss to Montreal in Game 7 of the second round last spring.

Attempt No. 5 comes at 12:08 p.m. today.

The stakes won't be as high as they were in that Montreal game when the Penguins face Tampa Bay at Consol Energy Center-- this is the fifth game of the series, not the seventh -- but that shouldn't detract much from the Penguins' sense of urgency.

OK, so the Lightning figures to be the more desperate team, considering that it is one defeat removed from the offseason, but the Penguins recognize that allowing Tampa Bay to stretch this best-of-seven to a Game 6 at the St. Pete Times Forum could alter the dynamics of the series.

The Penguins' edge would be pared to 3-2, and Tampa Bay would be returning home with the momentum and emotional lift born of having survived a near-death experience.

"We definitely want to end this as quick as we can," Penguins right winger Arron Asham said. "We don't want to give them any life or any confidence."

Put some teams in the Lightning's predicament, and they would be leaving sawdust -- OK, composite scraps -- all over the ice from squeezing their sticks so tightly. But Tampa Bay's players seemed genuinely relaxed at their workout Friday at Southpointe.

"We had a great practice," Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier said. "Guys were happy to be on the ice."

Both teams will have some new guys on the ice today. Wingers Chris Kunitz of the Penguins and Steve Downie of Tampa Bay will return from one-game suspensions, and Lightning coach Guy Boucher said he will dress seven defensemen and 11 forwards.

He did not identify the forward who will lose his spot in the lineup or the defenseman who will be added, but Marc-Andre Bergeron is the favorite, with Randy Jones also a possibility.

Dressing seven defensemen is a radical move for most teams, but something Boucher has done as a matter of course in Tampa.

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

"You have an opening now, and [Martin] St. Louis plays on it, Lecavalier plays on it, [Simon] 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 [defensemen], sometimes a specialist can play on the power play and the minute you get a defenseman 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."

Boucher -- like Bylsma, and every other coach -- likes to have his team get a strong start, which is something the road team has done in all four games of this series. If Tampa Bay is able to do it today, the chances of a Game 6 will rise dramatically.

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

The Penguins have been fairly effective at getting the puck through the neutral zone against the Lightning, something many of Tampa Bay's opponents struggle to do. That has allowed them to keep the play in the Lightning's end for much of the game, which helps to defuse Tampa Bay's volatile offense.

The Lightning hopes to change that, and intends to throw more pucks at Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. The merits of doing that were underscored by Neal's double-overtime winner in Game 5, even though Boucher noted that his sharp-angle, long-distance shot didn't constitute a scoring chance.

"When you put a lot of pucks on net, one of them -- just one of them -- might make the difference," he said.

Boucher's players surely realize that now. Just as the Penguins understand that Tampa Bay is likely to put forth its most furious, focused effort of the series today.

"Their season's on the line," Penguins center Mark Letestu said. "You push them to the brink, you expect their best. It's probably going to take our best to win it."

Scouting report

Matchup: Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 12:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.

TV, Radio, Internet: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9), penguins.nhl.com.

Series: Penguins lead, 3-1.

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Dwayne Roloson for Lightning.

Penguins: Are 21-17 in Game 5s. ... Have one of worst power plays in playoffs (5.6 percent). ... Are 3-0 when scoring first.

Lightning: Are 3-5 in Game 5s. ... Have one of best penalty kills in playoffs (94.4 percent). ... Have been outshot in three of four games.

Hidden stat: In regular season, Penguins were 5-3-2 in games starting before 5 p.m.; Lightning was 3-0.


For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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