First Up: Tampa Bay

The Pittsburgh Penguins will start the 2010-11 playoffs against a very unfamiliar postseason foe, the Tampa Bay Lightning. This will be the first ever playoff series between the two organizations.

The Lightning, under first-year head coach Guy Boucher, finished second in the Southeast Division with a 46-25-11 record (103 points). Tampa closed the season strong, going 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. The Lightning were 25-11-5 at home and 21-14-6 on the road. One interesting tidbit about Tampa’s season – they scored only 7 more goals than they allowed this season. That +7 ratio is second-worst among Eastern Conference playoff teams (Montreal +5). The Penguins were +39.

The teams split their four meetings this season. The Pens had victories of 8-1 and 5-1; the Lightning had wins of 2-1 and 5-3. Steven Stamkos led Tampa in goals with 45, but make no mistake who the leaders of this team truly are – veteran Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier, who are the only guys remaining from Tampa’s 03-04 Cup winner. St. Louis was second in the NHL with 99 points, and he always seems to play well against Pittsburgh.

Dwayne Roloson, who has more than 500 career starts, will be between the pipes for Tampa. Acquired in a midseason trade with the Islanders, Roloson went 18-12-4 with 4 shutouts and a .912 save %. He has playoff success on his resume, leading an underdog Edmonton team to the Cup finals in 05-06.

The question on everybody’s mind is simple: Is this a good matchup for the Pens? I would have preferred the 2 seed and a first-round series against Buffalo. (The Pens were a perfect 4-0 against the Sabres this season.) But, bottom line, this is an extremely winnable series. Pittsburgh has home-ice advantage, one of the hottest goalies in the NHL and the league’s top-ranked penalty kill. (Tampa ranks in the top 10 in both PP and PK.)

One other important factor is recent playoff experience. The Pens recent history is well-documented. The Lightning, on the other hand, have not played a postseason game since the 06-07 campaign. Is there such a thing as playoff rust? Let’s hope so.

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