PITTSBURGH — Right wing Teddy Purcell thought for sure he had his first career playoff goal Saturday afternoon.
With about three minutes left in the first period, Purcell, 25, ripped a shot from the left circle that whizzed past the shoulder of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and bounced off two posts. Purcell raised his arms in celebration.
"I even thought the goal light went on," Purcell said, smiling.
The puck didn't go in, but the rebound landed at the feet of Simon Gagne, who put it in the empty net for the Lightning's first goal in an 8-2 win over the Penguins in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. It was one of three assists for Purcell, who, in his first playoff series, had a strong game in sparking the Lightning power play, which was 4-for-7 (57 percent).
Purcell showed poise, patience and precision in making cross-ice passes that set up back-to-back power-play goals by defenseman Pavel Kubina in the third.
"I've always been a pass-first kind of guy," Purcell said. "Our power play was doing a lot of good things, having good entries, moving it around well, and that kind of bought us some time. Kuby did a good job of getting open. I made some passes, and lucky for us, they went through."
Coach Guy Boucher has lauded Purcell for his offensive abilities. But Boucher has been hard on him all season, pressing Purcell to show more grit, go to the net and raise his compete level. Boucher saw him improve throughout the season, and that has earned him playing time with Gagne and captain Vinny Lecavalier.
"We know he's got skill, tremendous skill — incredible shot, great vision," Boucher said. "It's the battle all year long that increased, got better and improved, and he's up to the level now where he's able to compete with the best of them, playing on a line with Lecavalier and Gagne and do everything, basically, offensively and defensively."
Purcell — who had just two three-point games in his career before Saturday — was quiet for the first four games of the series, picking up one assist. He said the playoffs have been a big adjustment. His first playoff game felt like his first NHL game, he said.
"You're nervous and almost too amped up," Purcell said. "You've just got to settle down and be poised, but you've got to be sharp at the same time."
Purcell showed both qualities on his two power-play assists. He held onto the puck long enough to find an open passing lane on each, and on Kubina's second goal, he deftly lifted a cross-crease pass over two Penguins' sticks. "It was like an empty-netter," Kubina said.
"His composure with the puck was phenomenal," right wing Steve Downie said. "He's been playing really well."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.