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With no Crosby, name power lands with Lightning
PITTSBURGH (AP) - Sidney Crosby? No. Evgeni Malkin? No.
But Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier? Yes, they'll all be on the ice this week.
And that's why, for a change, the Pittsburgh Penguins enter a playoff series with the lesser-known players. For once, they are the team more concerned about containing the high-end offensive talent its opponent has.
Stamkos was second in the league in goals, St. Louis was second in points, and Lecavalier, a former No. 1 overall pick, finished his season with 14 points in the last 11 games.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, veered from recent tradition and relied on defense after Crosby (concussion) and Malkin (knee) were lost for most of the season's final half.
Indeed, it is a new feeling.
"It's a completely different feel than the past few years," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, "with the teams we've had and the expectations."
Game 1 is 7 p.m. Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
"We know what we're getting ourselves into," Stamkos said. "I think both teams have some strong weapons, strong defenses, and strong goaltenders, for that matter. At the end of the day, it's going to come down to who wants it more. Who plays with more desperation. Who is going to sacrifice."
Stamkos shared the Rocket Richard trophy for NHL's top goal scorer with Crosby last season. And the two had quite the early-season race going this year, until Crosby was hit by Washington's David Steckel in the Jan. 1 outdoor game, and then again four days later by Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. He hasn't played in the 41 games since.
On Tuesday, Crosby took part in a non-gameday practice with the entire team for only the second time since being cleared to skate last month. All of his other workouts were either during the less-brisk morning skates, on his own or with only a handful of others, usually the team's other injured players.
Although he was not permitted to take part in anything that involved contact, Crosby appeared to participate in most of the drills with the same vigor as if he was healthy.
"He looked great today," former linemate Pascal Dupuis said.
But coach Dan Bylsma said there is no change in his status and Crosby will not play Wednesday.
"The fact that he's practicing with the team has not changed his progression," Bylsma said. "He's not been able to progress to the next standpoint yet."
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."
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