Penguins Notebook: Neal set for first playoff
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The Penguins acquired wingers James Neal and Alex Kovalev at the NHL trade deadline to add some goal-scoring to their lineup, and they did.
Just not much.
Kovalev had two goals in 20 games, Neal one in 20.
The Penguins' chances of surviving their first-round series with Tampa Bay, which begins with Game 1 tonight at Consol Energy Center, figure to rise significantly if those players regain their scoring touch, and Neal remained adamant Tuesday that he believes a breakout is near.
"I keep saying it over and over again, but, as long as I'm skating well, doing the right things, they'll be there because I'm getting lots of shots, getting great opportunities," he said. "Hopefully, the time is now."
Although he has played in 234 regular-season games, the one tonight will be his first in the Stanley Cup playoffs. That landmark occasion seemed to be in doubt when Neal appeared to injure his hand or wrist Friday on Long Island, but Neal said he was confident all along he would be ready for the postseason opener.
"I knew I'd be good to go," he said. "A few days' rest before the playoffs never hurts."
His injury seems to be a non-issue, and Neal said his goal-scoring slump will be if he doesn't lose faith in his abilities.
"It's all about not getting down on yourself and doubting yourself, [then] trying to change things up," he said.
"Sometimes, you go through droughts like that -- every good player does -- and, as long as I'm getting those good shots on net ... The chances are there, so I'm sure [the goals] will come."
Perhaps what the Penguins initially missed most when power forward Ryan Malone went to Tampa Bay after the 2007-08 season was his presence in front of the net.
Followers might also remember how tough it is to fell the 6-foot-4, 219-pound winger. Against Detroit in the 2008 Stanley Cup final, Malone played despite a broken nose, but he still blocked shots and manned the front of the net. He got hit in the nose again and persisted.
"You've got to have that," Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. "I always say that real toughness is not about how much you give; it's about how much you can take. [Malone] can give a lot, but he can take a lot.
"He's more than a big boy. There's a lot of big boys who are softies, but this guy goes to war. ... He represents what playoffs are about."
The battle between Tampa Bay's highly dangerous power play and the Penguins' top-ranked penalty-killers could be one of the most intriguing -- and decisive -- matchups in the series, but there is a facet that might be overlooked.
The Lightning scored the NHL's second-most power-play goals in the regular season (69), but it also allowed a league-high 16 short-handed goals. The Penguins scored 13 short-handed goals, second-highest total in the league.
Nonetheless, penalty-killer Craig Adams believes it would be a grievous error for the Penguins to count on scoring when Tampa Bay has the extra man.
"I don't think that's a good way to go into any penalty-kill, thinking that you're going to try to score," he said. "It's something you have to trust your instincts for, so that, if your opportunity arises, you try to take it, but [you can] get in trouble [if you try to force it].
"It's like going to a casino and trying to make money. I don't think it's a good idea."
Winger Simon Gagne, who lately has been playing with Steven Stamkos, has been limited by recurring neck problems in his first season with the Lightning but still managed 17 goals, 40 points in 63 games.
"He's a money player, Gagne, and he's a guy that shows up in big games," Boucher said, adding that Gagne, 31, brings a lot of experience to the playoffs, including a run to the Stanley Cup final with Philadelphia last year.
Penguins fans ought to be pretty familiar with Gagne from his decade with the Flyers, and not in a warm and fuzzy way. In 53 career games against the Penguins, Gagne has 19 goals, 42 points.
Penguins rookie left winger Eric Tangradi skated early with forwards Sidney Crosby (concussion), Matt Cooke (suspension) and Nick Johnson (concussion) but not in practice because of a glut of forwards. Bylsma said Tangradi, who played Sunday after recovering from a concussion, is available, if needed. ... The NHL changed the scoring on the Penguins' second goal, scored by Pascal Dupuis at 10:53 of the second period, in the 5-2 win Sunday at Atlanta. Chris Conner gets the second assist instead of Ben Lovejoy. ... The Penguins signed defenseman and 2009 second-round draft pick Philip Samuelsson to a three-year entry-level contract. Samuelsson, son of former popular Penguins defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, played the past two seasons at Boston College, which won the NCAA championship last year.
First Published April 13, 2011 12:00 am