The Tampa Bay Lightning are headed to the Eastern Conference Final for the second consecutive year and the Pittsburgh Penguins will be their opponent.

The Lightning had a pretty easy round to the Conference Final. In round one, they beat the Detroit Red Wings in five games and then dispatched the New York Islanders in another five games. The Penguins have only played one more game than the Lightning in the postseason (11). They beat the New York Rangers in five games to advance to the second round where they beat the Washington Capitals in six games.

Tampa Bay has been led by the line of Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn in the postseason. The top line has scored 16 of the 30 goals in the playoffs and have racked up 34 combined points. Kucherov leads the Bolts with nine goals while Johnson leads the team in points (13) and assists (9) during the postseason. Jonathan Drouin has done a nice job after being recalled when Steven Stamkos went down with an injury. Drouin has pitched in one goal and eight assists for nine points. The Lightning could possibly get back T.J. Brown and Anton Stralman from injury for this series.

Pittsburgh has had a fast and balanced attack in the offensive zone since Mike Sullivan took over as the head coach. Every player that has played in at least eight postseason games has registered at least a point. Phil Kessel leads the Penguins in scoring this postseason with 12 points. He and Patric Hornqvist are tied for the team lead with five goals apiece. The line of Nick Bonino, Kessel and Hornqvist have excelled since being put together because of the Malkin injury. The Penguins have scored three or more goals in eight of the 11 postseason games they’ve played.

The Bolts defense has been good so far this postseason. Victor Hedman is back to his playoff form of last season. He is pitching in on the offensive side of the puck and has been defending very well. If Stralman can return from his injury this series, it could make all the difference for Tampa Bay while improving the defense. The Lightning have only allowed 19 goals against which is the least amount allowed by the teams still alive. The 1.90 goals against average is also leading the teams still remaining in the postseason. Hedman and company will have to be aware of Pittsburgh’s skill and speed.

The defense of the Penguins has been led by Kris Letang and Trevor Daley. Letang is logging huge minutes and chipping in on the offense. Daley has been decent in his own end and is also providing some offense on the blue line. They will give up some goals and chances during the course of a game, but they’ll make you work for them. Tampa Bay is the fastest team that they have faced so far in the playoffs though.

The Bolts hold the advantage in the goaltending department, but not by much. Ben Bishop has the experience over Matt Murray, who has been very good this postseason. Bishop is 8-2 in 10 playoff games played with a 1.89 goals against average and a .938 save percentage. Murray is 7-2 in the postseason with a 2.05 goals against average and a .935 save percentage. The goalies will have to be on their game because each one is facing the best team they’ve seen in the playoffs so far.

The x-factor for the Bolts will be discipline and the penalty kill. They will have to stay out of the box because the Penguins have a good power play that can score. The penalty kill will need to keep doing what it has been doing all postseason. The x-factor for Pittsburgh will be how much they use their proven skill and speed to their advantage.

Tampa Bay has the speed to keep up with the Penguins, along with the experience, since this is the second year in a row that they’ve reached the Conference Final. This is going to be a close, tightly played series that will go seven with the Lightning moving on. Game 1 of this showdown takes place tonight at 8:00 PM on NBCSN.

 

 

 

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