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Fourth line shines for Penguins

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TAMPA -- A quick glance at the fourth-line grinders of the Pittsburgh Penguins reveals a couple of tenacious hit artists in Arron Asham and Michael Rupp and one unflappable shot blocker in Craig Adams.

 

In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, however, they've become much more.

 

The fact of the matter is veteran center Adams and wingers Rupp and Asham have been nothing short of remarkable in four games against the Tampa Bay Lightning this postseason. The trio has accounted for four of the team's 10 goals in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal round, scoring at least once in each contest.

 

As a result, the Penguins, who lead this best-of-seven, 3-1, can now end this series on Saturday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh at noon ET.

 

Not only does Asham lead the team with 3 goals, but his line has accrued 6 points and an astounding plus-12 rating through four games.

 

"The play of Asham and his line has been great," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma praised. "Arron comes up with a big goal (Wednesday) in the first and even had a couple of other opportunities. He could have gotten that second one (in the first OT).

 

"But the thing is they've been effective of getting into the offensive zone and being physical and in a game and series, going out there and making a difference with the way they play has been a big part of the story so far to this point. Hopefully, they can continue that."

 

The story on Wednesday had the Asham-Adams-Rupp line combining for seven hits, nine shots on goal and a plus-3 rating. Not too shabby, eh?

 

"That fourth line is doing so well because they make it happen out there and can generate goals 5-on-5," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "It's no secret that in the playoffs, you need production from your star players, but you also need those guys who grind it out and find those pucks."

 

Asham's goal 2:39 into the second, which gave the Penguins a 2-0 lead, enabled him to extend his series-leading point-scoring streak to four games. In fact, his four-game scoring surge, during which he's produced 3 goals and 4 points, is the longest of his postseason career.

 

"Our line's been good," Asham said. "We've been dominating out there, and I hope it continues. I just want to win the Cup so bad that I just elevate my game. It's been working and hopefully, it will continue, helping to chip in offensively."

 

Asham, who is in his 12th NHL season, signed a free-agent contract with the Pens last summer after reaching the Stanley Cup Final in a similar fourth-line role with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010-11.

 

"We've been doing a good job spending time in the offensive zone and I think that's a pretty good defensive scheme," Rupp said. "Keeping the team away from your goal is a good idea. Our line has been doing a good job of that, and we were rewarded again (Wednesday) with another goal."

 

Don't think for a second that just because the Asham, Adams and Rupp line is producing offensively, that they've forgotten their primary purpose.

 

The trio has also combined for 36 hits and four blocked shots. Adams actually leads the threesome with 3 blocks and 14 hits.

 

"I think we've played pretty well as a group," Adams said. "I think everyone is playing with intensity but that's the nature of playoff hockey."

 

"You don't win this time of year without (help from all four lines)," Rupp said. "You can look at all the games we've played and there were goals scored all throughout the lineup. Usually you have a shutdown line that's doing their best to contain a top line on the other team. You need to find ways to tilt the scale any way you can, so if that means production from the third and fourth lines, then that's what necessary."

 

And that's precisely what the Penguins have gotten in the absence of a few of their offensive catalysts this season, including captain Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

 

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale