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Penguins

Penguins excelling at stymieing Lightning attack

| Thursday, May 19, 2016, 4:36 p.m.
The Penguins' Kris Letang checks the Lightning's Ryan Callahan in the second period during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday, May 18, 2016, in Tampa, Fla.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Kris Letang checks the Lightning's Ryan Callahan in the second period during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday, May 18, 2016, in Tampa, Fla.
Penguins goaltender Matt Murray makes a third-period save on the Lightning's J.T. Brown during Game 3. The Penguins have kept the Lightning from peppering Murray with shots by controlling the neutral zone.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Matt Murray makes a third-period save on the Lightning's J.T. Brown during Game 3. The Penguins have kept the Lightning from peppering Murray with shots by controlling the neutral zone.

TAMPA, Fla. — For years, the Pittsburgh sports scene was defined by a Steel Curtain defense.

In the Eastern Conference finals, the Penguins are utilizing an Iron Clad version to stifle any attack the Tampa Bay Lightning try to mount.

Through the opening three games of the series, the Lightning have been unable to produce a sustained attack. Tampa Bay twice has been held to 21 or fewer shots on goal. The Lightning finished with 28 in Game 3 on Wednesday, although five came in the final five minutes of the game with Pittsburgh up three goals.

The Penguins' suffocating play has not come in the defensive zone but further up ice in the neutral zone, where they have used their quickness to stop Tampa Bay.

“It seems we are trying to force things at times, and they are right on top of us, and when you are turning over pucks on top of that, it makes it very difficult to have any success,” Lightning defenseman Matt Carle said.

In Game 3, the Lightning were credited with 11 giveaways, and the Penguins finished with seven takeaways. That equates to 18 Lightning turnovers. As the series has gone on, those numbers have increased from eight turnovers in Game 1 to 10 in Game 2. Those are only the ones that show up on the stat sheet.

“We have to have closer support through the neutral zone, make the easier pass and not look for a better chance every time. If you see a guy that's open, give it to him,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “So it's a little bit of a combination of them doing a good job and for us, maybe we have been trying to make it a little too difficult on ourselves.

“We have to just simplify our game a little bit.”

The Penguins have done a masterful job of taking away one of the Lightning's strengths and using it against them.

“They are playing similar to what we want to do — play a high-pressure game — but right now, we are feeding their game a lot more than they are feeding us,” defenseman Anton Stralman said. “They manage the puck better than us, and that's probably the biggest key in this series is to manage the puck well.”

Instead of looking for the long hope pass, the Lightning said they believe taking a safer approach will help them manage the puck better, cut down on turnovers and allow them to hold possession longer to create more time in the offensive zone.

“When we are able to play with speed, we are able to make good, crisp passes and hitting guys in stride, but you can't do that when you are trying to make passes through three of their guys onto someone's tape,” Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. “So we have to support each other better. We have to be in better spots and areas for each other. Once we do that, it will make things a lot easier.”

Easier said than done.

Erik Erlendsson is a freelance writer.

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