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Tampa Bay Lightning says it needs to simply shoot the puck

Penguins teammates mob James Neal after he scores the winning goal in Game 4 on an innocent-looking shot that goes into the net.

Associated Press

Penguins teammates mob James Neal after he scores the winning goal in Game 4 on an innocent-looking shot that goes into the net.

PITTSBURGH — Without fail, and without prompting Friday, Lightning players were talking about James Neal.

It wasn't so much the goal he scored Wednesday to give the Penguins a 3-2 double-overtime victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals; it was what he did before:

He threw the puck at the net from the right wing boards and at such a sharp angle, Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher did not even count it as a scoring chance.

But it went past the glove of goaltender Dwayne Roloson, and that is the point.

"You don't know," Boucher said, "which pucks are going to go in."

For the Lightning, down three games to one in the best-of-seven series and facing elimination today at the Consol Energy Center, it was a good lesson.

Shoot the puck.

"That sounds so cliche," wing Sean Bergenheim said. "You always hear people say that."

"But sometimes, it just seems you have to be reminded," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "I wasn't sure if (Neal) was even looking.

"He just wanted to get a shot on net."

Tampa Bay has been outshot 159-111 in the series. Though Boucher said scoring chances have been more equal, the bottom line is the Lightning has had 48 fewer chances for a puck to get by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

And with Tampa Bay desperate, it needs as much help and as many chances as possible.

"When you put a lot of pucks on net, one of them — just one of them — might make the difference," Boucher said.

"Our team has been amazing at that all year. It's been our philosophy, and for some reason in this series, we tend to overthink our shots."

In other words, players look for quality of shots over quantity.

The Penguins have something to do with it, too.

Pittsburgh has blocked 58 shots, but that entered Friday 11th among 16 playoff teams. Its real weapon is fleet and savvy blue-liners Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin, all puck possessors, which makes the dump-and-chase game more difficult.

"We have to be more smart about it," wing Simon Gagne said. "We have to try to make plays rather than chip it in and go for the big check. They want us to try to finish our checks against them.

"They like it because they're able to make plays after that. We want to make sure we have the puck as long as we can."

After that, it is back to basics.

"I'm sure you're going to see us put a lot more pucks on net from different angles," Gagne said.

"But not only putting the pucks there," said Bergenheim, whose 16 shots are a team high and 11 more than star Steven Stamkos. "I don't think we've been happy about the way we've gone to the net, too."

It is there, wing Marty St. Louis said, the Lightning can "win some battles, create some chaos."

It starts with that first shot.

"You have to give yourself a chance," Lecavalier said. "We have to put pucks on net."

"You never know what can happen," Gagne said.

Just ask James Neal.

Tampa Bay Lightning says it needs to simply shoot the puck 04/22/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 22, 2011 10:37pm]
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