Penguins – Lightning Series Outlook

Team of Destiny? Stanley Cup Favorites?

All of that talk surrounds the Pittsburgh Penguins who have not won more than 8 games in a post-season since their Stanley winning season in 2009.

It’s not just Vegas, the pundits and fan base that are extremely confident of the Penguins winning the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins as a group have not looked this confident during a playoff run since the 2013 post-season when they thought they were going to roll through the East and believed they were on a collision course to face Chicago.

With the Lightning starting this series without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman, Pittsburgh is no question the favorite and deservedly should be. That said this is a Lightning team very capable of upsetting the Penguins.

They have a Vezina level goaltender in Ben Bishop, the critical ingredient of having a game altering No. 1 shutdown defenseman in Victor Hedman and offensively they are so good at scoring off the rush, they’re the type of skilled team similar to the Penguins that can be getting outplayed and score two game changing momentum goals in a three minute span.

It’s a potential tough matchup for the Penguins even without Stamkos who may or may not return later in the series because the Lightning can play the Penguins way.

“We are two teams that like to play a similar style, a speed game. We will play to our strength’s,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said on Thursday.

To beat the Penguins, you need speed/skill, mobile defenseman & strong goaltending. A check mark can be put next to all of those for Tampa.

The Lightning are not as good as Washington, but because they are so similar to the Penguins, they could emerge as an even tougher opponent if Pittsburgh’s game slips a bit.

Matchups – Edge Pittsburgh

The Lightning won the Eastern Conference last season because they were a four line scoring team that overwhelmed the opposition with matchup problems.

Do you put your top guys against the Stamkos line or the Triplets?

This is where scouts, coaches I’ve talked to feel should alter the series in Pittsburgh’s favor.

No Stamkos at least to start the series gives Pittsburgh the opportunity to create almost every favorable matchup, in a way the Lightning were able to do to others last season.

Now the script is flipped for the Lightning with all of the talk coming into Game 1 about how do the Lightning decide to defend the HBK line. This is where no Stamkos is going to be felt as somewhere the Penguins project to get a favorable line matchup from one of their top-3 lines.

The Lightning defensively are more mobile than the Capitals and much more equipped to matchup against the Penguins depth than the Capitals were, especially with the likelihood that Stralman returns by Game 3 at the latest.

Tonight they’ll dress a top pairing of Victor Hedman – Matt Carle, second pairing of Jason Garrison – Andrej Sustr, third pairing of Slater Koekkoek – Braydon Coburn. This is not facing the likes of Nate Schmidt, Taylor Chorney, Dmitry Orlov or Mike Weber.

Even when Evgeni Malkin was going better than Crosby during the time this season when the Penguins faced Tampa Bay, Lightning coach Jon Cooper still went with the Hedman matchup against Crosby and there’s no reason to think he won’t go for that again.

Same with Pittsburgh as Mike Sullivan looks to go strength for strength and projects to likely to put Crosby against Tyler Johnson.

This is a formidable Lightning group on the backend even without Stralman but the presence of the Bonino line creates the type of dilemma that has made the Penguins so tough to beat.

Giving Evgeni Malkin a third pairing and a bottom-6 line is a risk for the Lightning but when you factor in his wingers, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the Bonino should be looked at as the second line when it comes to defending them.

If I’m Tampa, I’m going with the Killorn-Filppula-Drouin line against Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel.

“They have a deep lineup throughout,” [hide] Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “It’s not just Crosby and Malkin. You can see from Game 6 against Washington, the Kessel line was really good. We know we’re going to have our hands full. It’s going to be a challenge, but these are the types of games you love to play. You have to be at your best and perform at your best.”

How the Lightning attack the top three lines is one of the biggest storylines and this is where most evaluators see the loss of Stamkos being felt.

Now it’s on Pittsburgh to take advantage. [/hide]