The Pittsburgh Penguins evened up the Eastern Conference Final at 3-3 against the Lightning to force a decisive Game 7. The winner will move on to the Stanley Cup Final, where they will face the San Jose Sharks, while the loser goes home. The game can be seen on NBCSN at 8 p.m. on Thursday night.

Here are five keys to Game 7:
1.) Use of the Stretch Pass/Activation of the Defense
The Tampa Bay Lightning need to establish the use of the stretch pass early in the game. They’ll need to move the puck quickly, but be careful to not turn it over. If the Bolts can get the stretch pass going then they’ll be able to effectively shut down the Penguins forechecking game. They’ll make the Pens use their speed to beat them, which can be done. It seems that when the Tampa Bay defense in activated and jumping in on the offensive side of the puck that they play better.
2.) Power Play
The Bolts power play has been anything but spectacular in the postseason so far. They are 2-for-12 on the power play in this series, and 9-for-55 overall in the postseason (16.4%). Of the four teams left in the postseason, they have the worst power play percentage, which is the one facet of their game where they miss the injured Steven Stamkos the most. Tampa Bay will also need to draw more penalties on the Penguins to get them out of their element, even if that means more scrums after the whistle in the corners and around the crease area.


3.) First Goal

Pittsburgh is 8-2 in the playoffs when scoring first while having a record of 3-4 when the opposing team scores first. The Lightning are 8-1 when getting the first goal of the game, and are 3-4 when the opposing team scores first. Both teams have proven they can come back if they are down a goal or two in the game. It’s important for the Bolts to get the first goal of the game to quiet the crowd and try to take them and the Penguins out of the game. The Pens will want to get the first goal of the game to keep the crowd loud and maybe try to throw Tampa Bay off its game. Either way, whichever team scores first will need to keep up the pressure and not sit back with the lead.

4.) Forechecking Game Established Early
If the Pens can establish an early forechecking game then they’ll have a decent shot at winning the game. Their forechecking game often forces the Tampa Bay defense to turn over the puck, and make mistakes under pressure. If the forecheck game is established it can open up the ice and maybe create some odd man rushes. The Penguins will then have more sustained offensive zone pressure from their strong forecheck offering more chances and shots towards the net. The Lightning will have to counter the forecheck with quick movement of the puck and good gap control between the forwards and the defense.
5.) Shots on Goal
The more shots the Penguins can get towards Andrei Vasilevskiy, the better. He may stop a lot of them, but he isn’t the goalie who has shutouts in elimination games, that would be Ben Bishop, who is still out injured. Pittsburgh needs to get the shot on net and not pass it up for the perfect pass like they have a tendency to do on their power play. They’ll need to get traffic in front of the net to impede Vasilevskiy’s vision of the puck.


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