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NHL Playoffs: Penguins-Lightning Game 7 Preview

matt starkey via flickr.com

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning face off on Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET for game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. The winner of tonight’s game will advance to take on the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup final. Here is everything you need to know heading into tonight’s matchup:

How the Lightning can win:

After losing starting goaltender Ben Bishop in game one to a gruesome leg injury, young goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has stepped into the starting role, but has struggled so far in this series, allowing 3 or more goals in all 5 of his starts. But the Lightning will need Vasilevskiy at his best tonight if they plan on moving on.That’s not to say that it is all on him. He was brilliant in games 2 and 3, despite giving up 3 and 4 respectively. Vasilevskiy has played well enough to win this series, but he will need his defense to step up in order to clinch a Stanley Cup birth. The Lightning will also be without their star forward and captain Steven Stamkos, who has been sidelined since April after undergoing surgery to repair a blood clot. The Lightning know they missed an opportunity after dropping game 6 to the Penguins. The Bolts did this last season as well, dropping game 6 to the New York Rangers before winning game 7 on the road, the same situation that they are in right now. If the Lightning want to take game 7, they will need to get an early jump on the Penguins, something they did not do in game 6. They were out shot 14-4 in the first period, and couldn’t get the puck in the net until the third period.

 

How the Penguins can win: 

The Penguins are also without their starting goalie, as rookie Matt Murray has taken over the starting gig from Marc-Andre Fleury, at least for the rest of the playoffs, after he struggled in game 5, his first start since March 31st. Murray was excellent in the teams first two series against the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, but has been up and down in this series. He showed up in game 6, however, only giving up 2 goals on 30 shots and helping the Penguins live for another day. Offensively, the Penguins need their big guns to deliver in game 7, which they did in game 6, when Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Phil Kessel all scored a goal. Despite having 15 points in 17 playoff games, as well as all three game winners in this series, he only has 3 even strength goals and only 1 even strength assist since the 1st round. When Crosby is on top of his game, like any other star in the league, the players around him play at an even higher level, adding an extra element to the Penguins game.

Predictions: 

Nick: Lightning- Despite being without Bishop and Stamkos, the Lightning have found a way to win games throughout these playoffs. If the Lightning can stay out of the penalty box and give Vasilevskiy a little help, they should be able to pull out a victory.

Carlos: Penguins- Crosby is a man on a mission, looking to prove that he is still a huge factor for the team. Pair him up with a top defenseman in Kris Letang, and it is hard to bet against this team as they face off against the Lightning and backup goalie Vasilevskiy.

Ana: Lightning- Tampa Bay has shown all through the regular season and through the first two rounds that they can compete with anyone. Taking a look at last years Eastern Conference Final, the Lightning were not picked by many to take down the Rangers, yet they pulled out the series victory in a very similar scenario as this years final.

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