Bolts outworked by Penguins

Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos is stopped on a breakaway by Pittsburgh Penguins' Marc-Andre...

Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos is stopped on a breakaway by Pittsburgh Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury and the back-check of Paul Martin. (REUTERS/Mike Carlson)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:43 AM ET

TAMPA -- Time for the Lightning to stop over-celebrating its return to the playoffs and do something about its imminent departure.

As the Bolts keep falling behind early at the St. Pete Times Forum against Pittsburgh, they must watch endless video tributes to their 103-point regular season and career or comeback years by many players. But the noisy back-to-back crowds of 20,000-plus have now seen them trail 2-0 twice to the Penguins foot soldiers, come back and then lose, capped by Wednesday's 3-2 double overtime dagger by James Neal.

"As a kid you watch on TV when overtime games go deep into the night," Neal said of scoring his first NHL playoff goal. "You think about when I'm older, I wish I could be out there, get that shot and win one for your team."

He did exactly that at 3:38 of the second extra period, with a no-look, bad-angle puck off the half board, skipping it in off Dwayne Roloson's glove. But after 50 saves to that point, Roloson couldn't be blamed.

With the exception of the goalie as well as forwards Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier, coach Guy Boucher is going to have to get the rest of the Bolts over their collective playoff stage fright. If they can't stop the likes of Asham, Michael Rupp and Craig Adams, a combined plus-12 entering Game 5, it's no surprise they face elimination at high noon Saturday back in Steeltown.

"If I have to sell something to them now, we're in trouble," Boucher said.

With only 31 shots in almost 84 minutes of Game 4, it's clear that St. Louis and Lecavalier with their nine points are not getting adequate help.

"Our guys are teeing it up, trying to aim all the time," the coach griped. "Our team usually puts a lot of pucks on net, now we're waiting for a perfect opportunity. You're not going to beat this guy (Marc-Andre Fleury) that way.

"You have to grind it out and put the puck on net. That's why their fourth line is doing so well. That's how they won the overtime, a shot with absolutely no angle and he didn't look. That's what playoff hockey is about."

It might be too late for the Lightning to absorb that lesson, while Pittsburgh has enough playoff beards to make up for the absence of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

"We've battled that way every night since I got here," said Neal, acquired in a late February trade from Dallas. "We're going out every night with the hits and the puck retrievals."

Tampa tied it with less than four minutes to play on Sean Bergenheim's first NHL playoff goal. The Bolts also had an overtime power play after missing three in regulation. The weary Tampa specialists barely tested Fleury on their last opportunity, while Tyler Kennedy's opening goal broke the Bolts' 15-for-15 penalty kill hex on Pittsburgh.

The Bolts were often their own worst enemy, fumbling easy passes, coming up dry on three power plays, two of them in the final period.

Asham and Kennedy staked the visitors to the two-goal advantage and if not for the work of Lecavalier and St. Louis, the crowd would've turned ugly.

Boucher's frustration at not being able to score 5-on-5 has been evident as this series unfolds. Down 1-0 to start the second, his select starting trio of Lecavalier, St. Louis and Nate Thompson was out-worked in the matchup he wanted, versus Staal, Neal and Tyler Kennedy. Staal had a huge game for the Pens with an assist on the Neal goal and taking 35 total faceoffs.

Boucher, meanwhile, said he couldn't find the right words of praise for St. Louis.

"It looks like he's tired, it looks like he's down, he's doing everything he can out there. He's not afraid to pay the price, he's not afraid to get involved."

But he's not bringing enough teammates along for the ride.


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