Lightning appear focused and loose ahead of Eastern Conference Final series against the Pittsburgh Penguins

By on May 11, 2016
In game 5 vs. the Isalnders, Victor Hedman had two goals and was a plus 3 in 27:43 minutes of ice time. Hedman was the #1 star. (photo by Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports)

In game 5 vs. the Islanders, Victor Hedman had two goals and was a plus 3 in 27:43 minutes of ice time. Hedman was the #1 star. (photo by Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports)

 11:00 A.M. – The Tampa Bay Lightning hit the ice this morning for a one hour practice session at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum. The Eastern Conference Final match-up has been set and the Bolts can now focus on the Penguins and work on getting back into the Stanley Cup Final.

As the players took the ice it was comforting to see that there was only one red “no contact” jersey. That of course was being worn by the Captain Steven Stamkos who has been out of the line up since being diagnosed with a blood clot in late March. Anton Stralman, JT Brown, and Eric Condra were all wearing normal practice jerseys and taking part in all drills. However, it appears that Stralman’s re-entry into the line up might still be a few games off as his repetitions were limited and his normal defensive partner and fellow countryman, Victor Hedman, took most of the drills with Matt Carle.

The forward lines featured the normal cast of players but the “Triplets” line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrei Palat did not skate together. Johnson and Kucherov were put with Alex Killorn at Center and Palat was put on a line with Valterri Filpula at Center and Jonathon Drouin on the opposite wing.

While the Pittsburgh Penguins have been the best team in the NHL since the trade deadline the

Ryan Callahan (photo Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Ryan Callahan (photo Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports)

Lightning match up very well against them. The Pens are offense heavy and are surely lacking in defense despite the great playoffs that defenseman Kris Letang and rookie goaltender Matt Murray are having. They have not been tested by a team with the offensive speed and creativity that the Lightning have. The elite defense and goaltending of Ben Bishop are designed to negate the offensive power that the Penguins rely so heavily on. Their transition game is incredibly fast and it comes from all four forward lines. So if the Bolts are able to smother the Penguins offense, turn right around and get good chances off the rush, they can close this one out as well and compete for the Stanley Cup in the final. Additionally, Anton Stralman plays very well against them and has scored goals in all three games against Pittsburgh during the regular season. That includes a tremendous “spin-o-rama” over the shoulder backhand against Marc-Andre Fleury in Tampa. If he gets back into the line up early and that streak continues, the Penguins will run out of options quickly.

Despite the injury woes that the Bolts are dealing with they have closed out both of their 1st and 2nd round series in short order and have had plenty of time to recover and work on their chemistry. The practice session today was high speed and laser focused but the players appeared loose and determined. No one was slacking, and everywhere you looked you could see them smiling, laughing, and supporting one another. No doubt the series against Pittsburgh will be a huge challenge, but the Lightning continue to play their game, and pull through with clutch play from all four lines. Game 1 has been set for Friday the 13th in Pittsburgh and despite being away, the Bolts look ready to play and finish what they started.

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