PITTSBURGH – To coach Guy Boucher, the Tampa Bay Lightning shouldn't be fearful or intimidated by a Game 7 in Pittsburgh.
Why should they? To Boucher, what's one more potential elimination game for a resilient team that played such games against the Penguins in Games 5 and 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – and won?
"We've been playing Game 7 hockey for the past two games, and we're not about to change our attitude," Boucher said Tuesday.
The Lightning faced win-or-else situations Saturday in Pittsburgh – an 8-2 victory – and again Monday in Tampa, when they won 4-2 in Game 6 to even the series. With both teams now having to win or go home, at least one Tampa Bay player says it's the Penguins who should be feeling the pressure and fearing elimination.
"It's best-of-seven, so it's the last game and I think the pressure is a little more on them," Pavel Kubina said following an off-day skate at the Iceoplex at Southpointe rink in suburban Pittsburgh. "They have a home game."
So far, that hasn't been much of an advantage. The Lightning have outscored the Penguins 13-3 while winning the last two games at Consol Energy Center. The 8-2 rout in Game 5 represents the worst home-ice playoff loss in Penguins history.
While the margin of victory didn't really matter, the message it sent to the Penguins did.
The Lightning, it would appear, aren't intimidated by playing on the home ice of an opponent that, playing without injured stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, is averaging only 2.3 goals per game in the series.
"I feel we've been through two Game 7s already, facing elimination -- we've been in that situation," forward Vincent Lecavalier said. "It's good that we came back and now we've just got one more to do. It doesn't matter if it's on the road or home, we want to win the game."
"We've had guys here who have played in Olympics and played in world championships and world juniors and things like that and it's the same. Gold medal games and stuff, it's one and you're done," forward Steven Stamkos said. "That experience does help but ... it's easier said than done. But I think we're going to be fine. We've really composed ourselves, we've gotten better each game, we've learned each game."
Stamkos found his game in Pittsburgh in Game 5, with a pair of goals and an assist, but he did not get on the scoresheet and was a minus-1 Monday. While Stamkos scored 45 goals during the season, Game 5 was the only one in the series in which he has been a major factor offensively.
The Lightning could use another such game Wednesday, the first Stanley Cup Game 7 of the 21-year-old's career.
The Penguins have multiple players with Game 7 experience, although neither Crosby nor Malkin – the stars of their 2009 Stanley Cup run – will play due to the injuries that have sidelined them for multiple months.
Boucher said the Lightning are still preparing as if Crosby will play, as they have in every game of the series, but he hasn't been cleared for contact in practice, much less for games,
"Everybody's going to have those nerves; both teams are, whether you've been there before or not," said Stamkos, who doesn't worry he'll be too nervous to produce. "It's a different game. It's a new season. So it's going to be fun."
While Boucher isn't predicting any carryover from the last two games in Pittsburgh, he believes the way the Lightning turned the series around will aid their confidence.
"I think the players are managing some circumstances a lot better than they were before, there's a lot more calm when there's a penalty called against us," Boucher said. "There's a lot more calm when the other team scores, a lot more calm when the other team starts picking up momentum and our guys don't freeze -- that's the biggest thing. We were freezing in some of those (earlier) games in the first period."
But give up a bad goal, give a Penguins power play that is 1-for-30 some life, and the Lightning know they will give back everything they've gained by rallying to tie the series.
Pittsburgh has blown a 3-1 series lead only once, dropping four in a row after winning three straight against the Islanders in 1975.
"It's going to be the toughest game in this series, for sure," Boucher said. "I know they've lost some seventh games, but they've also been in positions where they won the Stanley Cup (in 2009). Our job right now is to continue to adapt and adjust like we have every game, but at the same time, continue to have this attitude that has given us the last two wins."