Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Potent Penguins power play may test much-penalized Lightning (w/ video)

BRANDON — No team remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs has been as good as the Lightning in killing penalties.

Then again, Tampa Bay has had the most practice at it.

Entering Wednesday, the Lightning was the most penalized team left, in penalty minutes and penalty kill time, having spent 7 minutes, 30 seconds more time killing penalties than any other of those teams. That's playing with fire when it comes to facing the Penguins in the Eastern Conference final, which opens Friday. Pittsburgh's potent power play had a league-best 27.5 percent success rate, including two goals in Tuesday's series-clinching win over the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals.

"You can't expect to win on a regular basis by taking a lot of penalties," D Braydon Coburn said. "It's definitely an area we need to correct and continue to go out and do the job on the PK. But it definitely helps when you don't take as many penalties."

The Lightning killed off 35 of 42 power plays (88 percent) against the Red Wings and Islanders in the first two rounds, a success rate that mirrored its regular season, when it was seventh in the league. But the Penguins, with weapons including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, will be Tampa Bay's toughest test yet. Pittsburgh's power play was 11-for-40 in the first two rounds.

The Lightning can't just rely on G Ben Bishop, with a 1.89 goals-against average in these playoffs, to bail it out.

"They've got a little bit of everything," Coburn said of the Penguins. "They got playmakers, they got shooters. They got (Patric) Hornqvist in front of the net. All those different combinations they have make them dangerous."

STEPPING IN: D Slater Koekkoek, who has appeared in four straight playoff games, is gaining confidence, having seemingly moved ahead of Nikita Nesterov on the depth chart.

"The more you play, the more comfortable you are, the less your hands are shaking out there, so it's good," Koekkoek said. "Coaches are trusting me a bit more out there. I'm able to play my game."

Koekkoek, who played just nine games in the regular season, is plus-2 in four games this postseason, even seeing shifts late in close games.

"I'm so blessed to be here and grateful for it," he said. "I never take anything for granted. I'm always looking around and taking in every moment because you never know when you're going to get it back."

PRAISE FOR ZETTLER: With AHL Syracuse coach Rob Zettler fired Tuesday, several of his former players expressed gratitude for the impact he has had on their careers.

"He's a hard-working, honest coach," D Luke Witkowski said. "I valued those three years I was with him. He made me a better player, for sure. He was hard on me at the right times and made sure I was ready for every practice, every game."

Koekkoek, a 2012 first-round draft pick, felt the same way. "He was hard on me," Koekkoek said. "But in the end, I think that helped me a lot. I thank him for everything he did for me."

Zettler has been offered another assignment within the organization, Crunch GM Julien BriseBois said.

Times correspondent Roger Mooney contributed to this report. Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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