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BORED PENS STILL ARE BETTER THAN LIGHTNING

Again, almost nothing works in Tampa Bay's game as the defending Cup champs cruise.

Let's put it this way: Had the Penguins been even marginally interested in playing Saturday night, their victory over the Lightning would have been even more lopsided.

As it was, the defending Stanley Cup champs scored an easy 4-1 decision in front of a sellout crowd of 17,132 at Mellon Arena without being particularly sharp or energized.

But neither were they challenged by Tampa Bay (2-3-2), which was outshot 33-23. The Lightning ended a 0-2-0 road trip outscored 11-2 and outshot 68-40.

Steven Stamkos' power-play goal was Tampa Bay's only tally. And goaltender Antero Niittymaki made some terrific saves, though he whiffed on Sergei Gonchar's slap shot from the point.

The team even did a nice job of containing Penguins superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, neither of whom scored.

But those were bullet points. Generally, the Lightning played too much on the perimeter and without speed, passed sloppily and had too many shots blocked.

It also continued to get nothing out of captain Vinny Lecavalier and left wing Alex Tanguay, both of whom continued to be goalless, Lecavalier for the 14th straight game going back to last season.

Pittsburgh had a 2-0 lead and an 11-6 shot advantage in the first period.

Bill Guerin's power-play goal opened the scoring 4:57 into the period. The Penguins had a 7-1 shot advantage at that point. Their next shot was 12 minutes, 13 seconds later, Gonchar's slap shot from the point that beat Niittymaki cleanly to the stick side with 2:50 left.

Tampa Bay cut its deficit in half 6:18 into the second period on Stamkos' power-play goal. Funny what happens when you put shots on goal and teammates rush to the net.

Stamkos' fourth goal of the season came from the top of the crease and off a rebound created by Marty St. Louis' blast that was stopped by the left arm of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

The good feelings didn't last. Pascal Dupuis deflected in Gonchar's wrist shot from the high slot at 8:15. Niittymaki and coach Rick Tocchet complained to no avail that Malkin had skated in front of Niittymaki and grazed his glove just as the puck whizzed by.

A high point for the Lightning was surviving a two-minute five-on-three as part of a 3:51 penalty kill that lasted 1:43 into the third period.

Michael Rupp made the score 4-1 with 8:39 left in the third period off a pass from Crosby after Steve Downie's giveaway behind the Lightning goal line.

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

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