The Lightning have dropped two in a row after winning seven of their previous nine games. Tampa Bay hopes to get back on track this evening against a team it ousted from the postseason in the opening round last year. The Penguins led that Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup three-games-to-one, but Tampa won three straight to claim the series in seven games.
Tampa Bay has also won three of five and four of the last seven regular-season meetings against the Pens. Pittsburgh has also lost two in a row and three of its last four in Tampa.
Just like in last year's playoff series, the Lightning will not have to face Sidney Crosby this evening. Pittsburgh's superstar captain hasn't played since suffering a concussion in January, and although Crosby been cleared for contact and is considered close to returning, he has been ruled out for tonight's tilt.
So far, the Penguins have done plenty of damage without Crosby in the lineup, as Pittsburgh is leading the East with 25 points on the year.
Pittsburgh has won three of its last four games and is 8-2-1 over its last 11 tilts. The club earned a victory on Tuesday, when it scored five unanswered goals to defeat the visiting Colorado Avalanche, 6-3. Evgeni Malkin netted the deciding tally in a four-goal third period for the Penguins, who trailed the Avs by a 3-1 score after 20 minutes.
Pascal Dupuis, Jordan Staal, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang and James Neal also lit the lamp for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury rebounded after surrendering three goals in opening 20 minutes, making 24 saves to earn the victory.
"We did a great job of coming back, but we have to be able to play games from the start, and know how to do the right things," said Neal. "We can't come into games and play catch-up."
Neal currently boasts the league's longest active point streak, as he's recorded four goals and seven assists during a seven-game run. He is leading the Penguins in both goals (12) and points (20) this season.
Pittsburgh has a 5-3-2 record on the road this year and is playing the first of two straight away from the Steel City tonight. The Pens will also visit the Florida Panthers on Saturday before returning to the Keystone State for a three-game homestand.
The Lightning have followed up a three-game winning streak by losing consecutive road games in St. Louis and Winnipeg. Tampa was shut out by the Blues, 3-0, on Saturday and was then dealt a 5-2 setback by the Jets. It marks the first time the Bolts have dropped consecutive games since an 0-3-2 stretch from Oct. 8-17.
With Monday's win, the Winnipeg franchise ended a 12-game losing streak against the Lightning. It was the club's first win over Tampa since October 3, 2009, when the Jets were located in Atlanta.
"Once we were down a couple we started making some plays and with some urgency," Stamkos said.
Tampa Bay is 5-1-0 as the host this year and has won five straight at the Forum since opening its home schedule with a 7-4 loss to the Panthers on Oct. 17.
Ryan Malone, a former Penguin forward and Pittsburgh native, is questionable for tonight after sitting out the last three games with an upper body injury. Malone has just one goal and one assist in 10 career games against his hometown team.