Lightning-Penguins Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 24, 2012
Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos are tied for the NHL lead with 73 points, but when the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning have met lately, only one has had any offensive success. Malkin has had a hand in seven of the Penguins' 10 goals in a pair of recent victories over the Lightning, who will hope for more from Stamkos when they visit Consol Energy Center on Saturday for the second time in less than two weeks. Pittsburgh (34-21-5) gave up 10 goals while splitting a weekend road swing in Philadelphia and Buffalo, but shored up its defense Tuesday upon opening a three-game homestand. Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves for his first shutout in three months and Malkin had a goal and an assist in the Penguins' 2-0 win over the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers. Pittsburgh is tied for fifth in the East with 73 points. "I think that was our first complete 60-minute game in a long time," said forward Steve Sullivan, who scored a power-play goal. "We got something from everybody." Malkin's assist on Sullivan's goal was the 300th of his career and gave him a three-point lead over Stamkos in the race for the Art Ross Trophy. That lead didn't last long. Stamkos, who headed into Winnipeg on Thursday with five goals and three assists during Tampa Bay's three-game winning streak, responded but couldn't lift his team. Stamkos scored his league-leading 43rd goal and added a pair of assists, but the Lightning's attempt to rally from a late four-goal deficit came up short in a 4-3 loss. "We're fighting for our playoff lives here, and to come out flat like we did for two periods is just disappointing and it's not good enough," defenseman Brendan Mikkelson said. Tampa Bay (27-27-6) is just two points removed from the East basement and in fourth in the Southeast Division, but it's also just seven points behind division-leading Winnipeg - with three games in hand. Getting out of Pittsburgh with a positive result won't be easy - especially if Tampa Bay can't contain Malkin. The 2009 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, who missed last spring's seven-game playoff loss to the Lightning with a torn ACL, had a hat trick and two assists in a 6-3 win in Tampa on Jan. 15, then scored twice in a 4-2 home victory Feb. 12. That latest performance left Lightning coach Guy Boucher wondering what it would take to stop Malkin. "Well, we certainly didn't have the answer, that's for sure, so you have to ask somebody else (other) than me," he said. Stamkos, meanwhile, has been limited to two assists and six shots in three games against Pittsburgh this season. The Lightning have won only eight games in which Stamkos hasn't scored a goal. The Penguins are 3 for 9 on the power play in the last two meetings with Tampa, a stark improvement after going 1 for 35 in the postseason and 0 for 7 in a 4-1 loss Nov. 17. Pittsburgh is 22-7-3 when it scores with the man advantage this season. The Lightning, an East-worst 10.5 percent on the power play away from home, shouldn't count on turning that around Saturday. The Penguins have the league's best penalty kill on their own ice (90.4 percent). Pittsburgh defensemen Brooks Orpik (upper body) and Matt Niskanen (illness) are day to day, while Tampa captain Vincent Lecavalier is at least two weeks away from returning from a broken right hand.
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