WASHINGTON, D.C. — Left wing Sean Bergenheim doesn't have the size or offensive skill of some of the Lightning's top forwards.
But it was Bergenheim — all 5 feet 10, 200 pounds of him — who came up with some of the biggest goals in Tampa Bay's seven-game quarterfinal win over the Penguins. All three of his goals, including Wednesday's in the 1-0 Game 7 win, tied the score or put the Lightning ahead.
Not bad for a 26-year-old in his first NHL playoff, an appearance that continues tonight in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Capitals.
But coach Guy Boucher isn't surprised.
"We call him 'The Hustler,' " Boucher said. "He's one of those guys that the motor is running every second. You don't think he's got that much speed. You don't think he's got that much hands. You don't think he's that big. And he basically does it all. It's a nonstop relentlessness that he's got, and it's paying off."
That relentlessness serves Bergenheim well on a third line with Dominic Moore and Steve Downie. His puck pursuit on the forecheck can wreak havoc and make him a thorn in the side of opponents. And he has become valuable on the penalty-kill unit, which held Pittsburgh's power play to 1-for-35 in the series.
When the Lightning was dealing with injuries to some of its best forwards during the regular season — including Vinny Lecavalier, Simon Gagne and Steve Downie — Bergenheim also helped supply an offensive lift, with 14 goals and 15 assists.
The bigger the game, the better Bergenheim was, Boucher said.
"I don't know what it is. It's something that's been there my whole career," Bergenheim said. "Ever since I was in juniors, usually in playoffs I played very well. I don't have an answer, but I'm definitely a better player when it's a tight game than an 8-1 game. I personally enjoy these games so much too."
Teammate Adam Hall, a playoff veteran, said Bergenheim is going to be a "factor in every game" because of the way he skates, how strong he is on the puck and he "just has a nose for the net."
That could be seen on Bergenheim's goals in Games 6 and Game 7 against Pittsburgh, which resulted from a play practiced often between him and Moore. Moore, who raced behind the Penguins net on a misdirection attempt, said he knew Bergenheim would be there trailing on the backside and be ready for a back pass.
"I never had any doubts that Bergie would play his best hockey at this time of year," Moore said. "He has that mentality. He's just a smart player. He's an aggressive player. I think you see that he relishes these big games. For him to play the way he has says a lot about his character."
MISCELLANY: One reason Tampa Bay is hosting Games 3 and 4 against the Capitals back to back on Tuesday and Wednesday is because USF is holding its graduation at the St. Pete Times Forum on Thursday. … The league announced Game 3 will start at 6:30 p.m. … Boucher appears to be leaning toward a similar lineup for tonight as he used in the three consecutive wins against Pittsburgh, with seven defensemen (including Marc-Andre Bergeron) and 11 forwards.