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Penguins seek return to normalcy

| Monday, April 25, 2011

The Penguins have shown mental toughness all season, which largely explains their success amid constant adversity.

But through five games, the Penguins' Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Tampa Bay Lightning -- which they lead, 3-2 -- has been far too schizophrenic for their liking.

A simple, low-scoring Game 6 tonight at St. Pete Times Forum figures to give the Penguins their best chance at advancing.

"What a weird series," said winger Arron Asham, who has contributed to the strangenss by leading his team with three goals. "Right now for us, the thing is to stick to our system"

The defensively sound Penguins unraveled in Saturday's 8-2 loss in Game 5 at Consol Energy Center. There were defensive breakdowns, poor decisions, bad goaltending and uncharacteristic lapses. The Penguins insist an encore is highly unlikely.

"It all happened so quickly," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "It was like we didn't know what hit us and, all of a sudden, we were down five or six goals. I think it was just a mental thing."

Getting back to their defensive roots, the Penguins maintain, will help give the series a sense of normalcy. Given that the Penguins are one of the league's top defensive teams and that Tampa Bay deploys a 1-3-1 trap, these scoring binges have been unexpected:

» The Lightning have scored 13 goals in the past two games at Consol Energy Center.

» Alex Kovalev and Asham scored 18 seconds apart in Game 1 after the first 45 minutes were scoreless.

» Max Talbot and Asham scored 45 seconds apart in Game 3.

» The Lightning scored goals 46 seconds apart in the first period of Game 5 and twice in 81 seconds in the second period.

The offensively challenged Penguins would prefer to showcase their superior defense in a low-octane contest. In the three lowest-scoring games of the series, the Penguins prevailed.

"I was thinking about all these goals coming in bunches," right wing Craig Adams said. "It's happening to both teams. I have no clue what the reason it is. All I know is that teams need to be mentally stronger."

Mike Rupp, who has joined Adams and Asham on the Penguins' most successful line, also is at a loss.

"It's weird because we're taught from a young age that the most important shifts in hockey are the first and last five minutes of a period and every shift after a goal," he said. "We just can't afford to let this happen anymore."

The Penguins hope to put the series away tonight: In Game 7s played on home ice, the Penguins are 2-5. A slow and steady pace would serve them well.

"Maybe we did lose our focus in that last game," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "We had some lapses, and we can't do that anymore. And I don't think we will."

Additional Information:

6 is special

Some of the most memorable moments in Penguins playoff history have occurred in Game 6:

» 2009 Stanley Cup Final: Rob Scuderi's kick save in the final moments preserves a 2-1 win over Detroit.

» 2009 Eastern Conference quarterfinals: The Penguins roar back from a 3-0 deficit to eliminate the Flyers with a 5-3 victory in Philadelphia.

» 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals: In a must-win game, Mario Lemieux beats Dominik Hasek with 1:21 remaining to tie it, then Martin Straka tops Buffalo in overtime, 3-2.

» 1991 Stanley Cup Final: The Penguins win their first Stanley Cup in an 8-0 rout of Minnesota.

» 1991 Wales Conference finals: Mark Recchi nets the winner, as the Penguins advance to their first Stanley Cup Final with a 5-3 win over Boston.

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