With no Crosby, name power lands with Lightning

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Crosby politely declined to speak with reporters after the practice, one in which he was among the last players to leave the ice. And Malkin (ACL surgery), of course, is out for the season.

The injury report, however, hasn’t fazed Tampa Bay.

“No matter who’s on the other side, we’ll worry about our game,” said Lightning winger Ryan Malone, a former Penguin. “That’s the important thing.”

Due in part to Stamkos‘ 45 goals and former scoring champion St. Louis‘ 99 points, Tampa Bay ended the season third in the conference in goals and with the top power play in the East (20.5 percent).

But that didn’t mean much in the past three games vs. the Penguins. Tampa Bay managed only four goals in those games, although it did earn a 2-1 victory on March 31.

The metamorphosis of the Penguins from a high-scoring team to one that relies on defense was forced by the loss of Crosby, clearly. His 32 goals in exactly half a season still lead the team by far. Winger Chris Kunitz’s 23 are Pittsburgh’s high among players who will participate in Game 1.

So, Pittsburgh instead turned to a league-best penalty kill (86.1 percent), and focused on defense to the point where it had the No. 3 goals-against average (2.39) in the East.

At the season’s midway point, Crosby was the runaway choice for NHL MVP. By the end, with Crosby out, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was named the Penguins‘ team MVP.

“Over 30-some odd games without our high-powered offensive guys, we kind of built around a defensive game,” Kunitz said. “And our goalie has been our best player by far.”

This is the Lightning’s first playoff appearance since 2007, and it comes during the first season in the tenures of general manager Steve Yzerman and coach Guy Boucher.

“We’re in a good place right now,” said Lecavalier, the team’s longest-tenured player. “This year, we really felt that it was different. It was a different approach. Just a different culture they were building here.”

Each team enters the postseason on a roll. Pittsburgh has won 12 of 16 and eight of 10, including its final four after a loss to the Lightning. That was part of a Lightning stretch in which it won seven of its final eight.

“To me, it’s not about momentum,” Boucher said. “It’s about who’s the most desperate.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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