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After twice playing "Game 7 hockey" against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning faces real thing


For conspiracy theorists, the Lightning's practice Tuesday at the Iceoplex was fertile ground.

About halfway through the workout at the complex in suburban Canonsburg, the large lights over the rink went out. Smaller lights remained on (as did, it seemed, every other light in the complex), and the team finished its workout in soft mood lighting.

"Only in Pittsburgh," Tampa Bay assistant coach Dan Lacroix yelled.

There were plenty of jokes after practice about the timing of the mini blackout as the Lightning prepared to face the Penguins tonight at the Consol Energy Center in the seventh and deciding game of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

"Welcome," assistant coach Marty Raymond said, speaking generally, of course, "to Game 7."

Lose and you go home.

It is a daunting proposition despite general manager Steve Yzerman's advice to his players to "relax, stay calm and just go out and play."

The Lightning is trying to take the edge off by considering the game its third straight Game 7, having won two elimination games to overcome a three games to one deficit to tie the series 3-3.

"What's the difference between us being eliminated in the fifth game, being eliminated in the sixth game?" coach Guy Boucher said. "We've been playing Game 7 hockey the last two games."

"The message for the next one," center Steven Stamkos said, "is don't change the way we've played."

Goalie Dwayne Roloson entered Tuesday third in the playoffs with a 2.05 goals-against average and second with a .941 save percentage. That's good, because his team has been outshot in every game of the series.

Tampa Bay's power play was third at 32 percent. Its penalty kill was second at 96.7 percent, with 29 kills in 30 attempts.

The Lightning also has been a handful in front of the net, scoring off rebounds and set plays, which is why Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy said heads in the defensive zone have to be "on a swivel."

And there is history. Tampa Bay is 2-0 in Game 7s. It beat the Flyers for the 2004 East championship and the Flames for the 2004 Stanley Cup.

Visiting teams entered this season 8-2 in Game 7s since 2009, and the Penguins are 2-5 in Game 7s at home.

More to the point, though, Boucher said, is how his team has grown during the series: "Players are managing circumstances better than they were before. There's a lot more calm when a penalty is called against us. There's a lot more calm when the other team scores, a lot more calm when the other team starts to get a bit of momentum."

For Pittsburgh, 18 players have Game 7 experience to Tampa Bay's seven.

"There is experience to draw," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "I also know that every game and every series has its own separate emotions."

Said Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier: "Stats are in the past. I know Pittsburgh is going to play hard and do their best. It'll be handled on the ice."

And perhaps with a little gamesmanship. Rhonda Eustis, at the front desk at the Iceoplex, said she did not know what caused what seemed to be a selective power outage. She did know this, though:

"I don't think it will affect Marty's (St. Louis) game."

After twice playing "Game 7 hockey" against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning faces real thing 04/26/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 8:10pm]
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