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Tampa Bay Lightning plans as if Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby will be back

For Guy Boucher, seeing is the only way he will believe.

The Lightning coach has heard the reports Sidney Crosby, the Penguins' injured superstar, will not be ready when the teams begin their first-round playoff series Wednesday at Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center.

Boucher just cannot afford to take them at face value as he puts together a game plan.

"So to me," Boucher said, "he's playing, period."

But Penguins coach Dan Bylsma recently said Crosby, skating with teammates but out since Jan. 5 because of a concussion, might not get medical clearance to play, at least in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series.

"But we can't say if he's not (playing), they don't have a great team," Boucher said. "They're a great team. With him, they're an amazing team. We're playing against a great or amazing team, so we have to be at our best."

Despite missing Crosby for 41 games and fellow star Evgeni Malkin, out with a season-ending knee injury, for 39, the Penguins tied the Flyers with 106 points but lost the Atlantic Division title because of fewer nonshootout victories.

A raft of other injuries helped pile up 349 man-games lost compared with 172 for Tampa Bay.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will no doubt get votes for league MVP for going 36-20-5 with a 2.32 goals-against average and .918 save percentage for a team on which Crosby still leads with 32 goals and 66 points.

Pittsburgh, the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, also had the league's No. 1 regular-season penalty kill at 86.1 percent.

"You see what they've done with Malkin and Crosby out of the lineup, so by no means are we thinking we're going to steamroll them," Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos said. "These guys really are a solid team."

That finished the regular season with four straight wins and a 13-4-2 run.

"They've got small, feisty, fast players that are tough to handle and difficult to play against," Boucher said. "They're like us right now. They had a great stretch to finish, and they're not underconfident, for sure."

The Lightning, No. 5 in the East, is confident, too.

As Boucher said, "We're going in with ammunition."

The team won seven of its last eight games, has the best power play in the East at 20.5 percent and a top-10 overall penalty kill.

Center Vinny Lecavalier is playing his best since 2007-08 and has nine goals and 17 points in his past 14 games. Wing Marty St. Louis was second in the regular season with 96 points and is playing better than during his 2003-04 MVP season.

And though Stamkos, second in the league with 45 goals, has just five goals in his past 28 games, he is getting chances and Boucher believes he is on "the cusp" of breaking out.

"They're an interesting team," Bylsma told Pittsburgh reporters Sunday. "They play a fast game. They're really good in and around the net and try to get there and be factors. They play quick defensively."

The teams split the four-game season series with the Lightning just 2-for-21 on the power play but 16-for-18 on the penalty kill.

The lowlight: an 8-1 loss Jan. 5 in Pittsburgh, Crosby's last game.

"We're going to expect he'll be in the lineup," Stamkos said. "He's the best player in the world. When a team has that guy in the lineup, they're a different team."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning plans as if Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby will be back 04/10/11 [Last modified: Sunday, April 10, 2011 11:29pm]

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