Suspensions prompt lineup changes for Penguins, Lightning
TAMPA, Fla. — One-game suspensions handed down Tuesday by NHL hockey operations to wingers Chris Kunitz and Steve Downie will, if nothing else, change the look of this first-round Stanley Cup playoff series between the Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Neither Kunitz nor Downie is eligible for Game 4 tonight at St. Pete Times Forum, forcing their respective coaches to use different lineups for the first time in the series.
The Penguins likely will turn to left wing Eric Tangradi, a promising power forward that has played only once since Feb. 11, when he was concussed in a loss at the New York Islanders.
Tangradi's lone game since then was the regular-season finale at Atlanta, though he impressed coach Dan Bylsma in that contest — and early in the season.
"One of the things he did very well was immediately establish his presence in front of the net," Bylsma said. "His puck skills are good around the net, but they're also good down low and on the wall."
Tangradi, the organization's top forward prospect prior to this season, conceivably could boost a Penguins' power play that is 0 for 15 through three games. Bylsma said Tangradi "compares very high" to any current Penguins player as a "net-front guy."
The loss of Kunitz is a double-edged dagger for the Penguins. He was the leading healthy goal scorer entering the playoffs, and he also is a penalty killer.
Even without Downie, who scored 22 goals two seasons ago, the Lightning can turn to proven scorers such as centers Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos, and wingers Simon Gagne and Martin St. Louis.
The Lightning recalled Blair Jones and Mattias Rittola from AHL affiliate Norfolk. However, coach Guy Boucher said he was not against dressing an extra defenseman.
Lightning by the numbers
The Lightning is at 47.9 percent on face-offs through three games of a Round 1 playoff series against the Penguins. Their top draw-men in that category:
Vincent Lecavalier: 32 of 62 (51.6 percent)
Dominic Moore: 21 of 42 (50 percent)
Steven Stamkos: 14 of 29 (48.3 percent)
• Source: NHL.com
"I obviously hadn't seen the replay."
Penguins defenseman, on his postgame response Monday night that absolved Lightning right wing Steve Downie of his illegal check in Game 3.
"We've had some puck-luck on our side, and you've got to give our penalty killers a lot of credit for doing a great job so far."
Lightning goaltender, on how his club had held the Penguins without a power-play goal on 15 chances.
Around the Penguins
• Center Sidney Crosby practiced Tuesday for the first time since last Friday, joining the Penguins during a morning session at St. Pete Times Forum. His participation did not include contact, and he has not been cleared by doctors for that next step in a recovery from a concussion that has prevented him from playing since Jan. 5.
• The Penguins practiced without goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, left wing James Neal and forward Craig Adams — though coach Dan Bylsma said all were excused for rest and each would play tonight in Game 4 of this series. Video coordinator Jim Britt served as the Penguins' second goalie during practice.
• The Lightning held an optional afternoon practice that did not include left wing Ryan Malone, who missed a portion of Game 3 with a shoulder injury. He was hurt on the opening shift but finished the game, although he played only 11 minutes. Lightning coach Guy Boucher said Malone should play tonight. Malone has yet to record a point in the series.
On the Penguins' physical play in final seconds of Game 3:
"The last 25 seconds, I was really impressed with Brooks Orpik. He blocked by a shot by Steven Stamkos, there's a big scramble and he boxed out, and then he just buries Martin St. Louis at the buzzer from behind. I love that. Watch the last 25 seconds, when everything happens, and he's just hammering people. When you're a player on the bench, you hang your hat on that for the next game."
On the Penguins' role players making a significant difference:
"It was straightaway hockey. The brute strength of Mike Rupp to get the puck, then a soft chip to the side and he goes and gets it. It's north-south speed. He sees Arron Asham going to the net, passes over and scores. It was the attitude of the play, which I liked. That's the trademark of the Penguins, that goal. They're not going to beat someone one-on-one with anything fancy. When they've really dominated, that's what they've done."
On the NHL suspending wingers Chris Kunitz of the Penguins and Steve Downie of Tampa for Game 4 for dangerous hits:
"Kunitz was definitely going to get one. I don't think he maliciously tried to do it. It was just a reaction-thing with his elbow. The other one, Downie, I don't know if he should have gotten suspended. He jumped in the air, and that's what got him. I think it hurts the Penguins a little more. Kunitz has won two Cup titles, plus they need his offensive ability. Tampa needs Downie's grit, but Pittsburgh can't afford to give up the scoring."
On the pressure for the Lightning to even the series in Game 4:
"If Tampa loses, the odds are against them because of Pittsburgh's experience in the playoffs and ability to put teams away. I wouldn't say they can't do it, but this is obviously their biggest game. Marc-Andre Fleury had a very average game in Game 2 and came back with a strong effort. I don't think Fleury is going to come back with another average night. They lost their opportunity there. They really have to beat them now. I don't think there are any freebies."