Lightning wants more bodies, pucks at the net


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TAMPA. Fla. -- There are guys in the NHL, such as Tampa Bay left winger Ryan Malone, who might as well carve their initials in the blue paint of the crease. That's how much time they spend there.

The problem for the Lightning through most of its first-round playoff series against the Penguins has been that too often the players who park near the net have had plenty of time to scratch in some graffiti when they aren't jostling with defensemen to maintain their position.

"We have to get shots there," winger Steve Downie said Sunday after Tampa Bay practiced at the St. Pete Times Forum.

That is exactly what the Lightning did Saturday. It was, to say the least, a productive venture that led to an 8-2 win in Game 5 at Consol Energy Center.

And it most likely is what Tampa Bay must continue to do if it is to survive a second elimination game in a row. It trails in the series, 3-2, going into Game 6 tonight.

Getting bodies and pucks to the net is not novel. Coaches have a universal love of that.

"I don't think we reconfirmed it; I think we were very aware of it and just weren't doing it well enough," said Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer, whose shot from the point on a power play Saturday led to a rebound goal by Steven Stamkos.

The rundown of seven of the club's eight goals offers proof of the effectiveness:

Simon Gagne in close on a rebound, Stamkos in close on a rebound, Vincent Lecavalier on a redirection from the top of the crease, Gagne on another rebound, Stamkos on the Brewer rebound, Pavel Kubina from the corner of the net on a power play, and Dominic Moore on a rebound during a power play.

For variety, Kubina threw in a slap shot goal from the right dot for the Lightning's sixth goal, on a power play.

Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher and his staff drummed the idea into the players before Game 5 because of what they saw previously, especially in losses at home in Games 3 and 4.

"Since the beginning of the series, whether we won the game or not, I've got tons and tons of clips of guys waiting at the net for a shot, and it's not coming," Boucher said. "That was making me a little mad the [previous] two games. If you score or you don't score, the idea is to still take care of the process."

Having scorers near the net can convert long-range shots from low-percentage opportunities to bona fide scoring chances via rebounds, deflections and screens.

"I would love to shoot it off somebody into the net," Brewer said. "I'm shooting at traffic. It's really hard to score from the point. If the goalie can see the puck, you ain't going to score. That's just the way it is."

The Penguins also preach what coach Dan Bylsma calls a net-front presence.

"The team that has done that best in the series has won the game," said Downie, whose shot from just inside the blue line set up Stamkos' first goal.

"They've done a pretty good job of blocking shots, [but in Game 5] we got a lot of shots through."

In the first four games of the series, the Penguins averaged 14.5 blocked shots. They had seven Saturday.

When the shots have gotten through, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury often hasn't dished up an inviting rebound, but Saturday Fleury and his replacement, Brent Johnson, gave the Lightning several rebounds that were the equivalent of hanging curveballs.

"We know that Fleury's a great goaltender and he's going to make the first save pretty much all the time," Gagne said. "I'm expecting them to be a lot tougher around their net, and it's going to be a lot tougher to get to those rebounds [tonight]."


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com .


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