Pittsburgh Penguins Look to take Commanding Series Lead


Tonight marks game four of the Eastern Conference Final, where the Pittsburgh Penguins hold a 2-1 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Pens will look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead back to Pittsburgh with them.

Patric Hornqvist will be available for game four of the Eastern Conference Final, which likely means the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ lineup will stay the same. Hornqvist left game three after blocking a shot with his hand and did not return. Though his status was a little up in the air since then, he appears to be good to go for tonight.

That means that none of the black aces or usual scratches will get their chance to slot into the lineup tonight, but that’s definitely not a bad thing. The Penguins really clicked in game three, finally shaping up offensively and putting nearly 50 shots on Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Putting nearly as many shots on goal will be equally as important tonight. Vasilevskiy is a good goalie, but it’s almost impossible to stand up to that kind of pressure for an entire game – especially when you really only have two decent defensemen in front of you.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been good at rebounding from losses this season, but that’s mostly been with Ben Bishop in net. It remains to be seen if they can bounce back the same way tonight with the young Vasilevskiy behind them instead. Tampa surely knows that this could be their last home game of the season and won’t want to lose it. 

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They came out strong for game three, especially for the first ten minutes. After that point they sat back more on their heels, allowing the Penguins to take the reins and stomp all over them. Naturally, the Bolts will want to maintain that kind of pressure for a longer stretch of time tonight.

In response, the Penguins will need to bring the kind of energy that has been so typical of their game under Mike Sullivan. High-energy, high-paced play is a major strength of Pittsburgh’s, and the Bolts have looked a little tired lately. Despite being able to keep up with the Pens in the speed department, they stepped off the gas in the last game.

Neither Ben Bishop nor Steven Stamkos will return tonight for Tampa, so their lineup should be the same as it was in the last game. Look for the “Triplets Line,” which has been occasionally split up this year, to get some minutes together to try to build off their chemistry.

Speaking of chemistry, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz will probably be on a line together tonight also. They too have been split up for a while in favor of having Hornqvist and Conor Sheary flank Sid, but when they saw time together in the last game both players scored. Those two work really well together, as we’ve seen in many seasons past (and the Olympics), and will provide offensive firepower.

The importance of a strong start cannot be overstated. The Lightning will be doing their best to strike fast and early and the Pens will need to shut them down from the opening puck drop. We need to avoid turnovers and need to avoid allowing long periods of pressure in the defensive zone.

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If the Penguins win tonight, the series will shift back to Pittsburgh as the home team holds a commanding 3-1 lead. If the Lightning win, then we’ll head back to Pennsylvania with a tied series that could be anyone’s game.

(Speaking of that, here’s some shameless self-promotion: last night I was a guest on the Winged Octopus blog’s podcast, discussing the series and the team. If you’ve got a long commute and want to spend it listening to me, then here’s the link!)