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Seven keys for Penguins vs. Lightning Game 7

The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins battle in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday night, playing for the right to challenge the San Jose Sharks for the Stanley Cup. 

Who takes it? Whose hockey reigns supreme?

Here are seven keys to Game 7. Please join your friends at Puck Daddy for a full night of Game 7 coverage.

1. Scoring First

Look, we’d like to treat hockey like its an intricate game full of nuance whose basic stats are just one strand in the fabric of analytical facts that determine success or failure on any given night …

… but sometimes we just have to report that the Lightning are 8-1 when scoring the first goal and the Penguins are 8-2. So there.

2. Skate, Penguins, Skate

The Penguins won Game 6 because they skated the Lightning out of the building in the first 40 minutes. “We did a good job of putting pucks in areas where we could use our speed. Guys grabbed it, took off and used our feet,” said forward Matt Cullen. “We take away time and space and make it hard on other teams.”

When the Penguins are able to chase down pucks behind the Tampa defense, they dominate. The trick is getting those pucks by Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman and the defensive structure the Lightning have when they’re on their game.

3. Stop Giving Pittsburgh Gifts

The last time the Lightning were in Pittsburgh, they had one recorded giveaway. One. In 60 minutes and 53 seconds of hockey.

They had 17 giveaways in Game 6, an uncharacteristic sloppiness that was called out by nearly every Lightning player after the game. It was a combination of pressure by the Penguins and poor execution by Tampa, in an attempt to make fancier plays than were required.

We assume you recall the outcomes of those games.

4. Murray Vs. Vasilevskiy

It’s the first Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for both goalies, who are here due to injuries for the teams’ typical starters.

Murray had a calming presence in Game 6; and while the conference final hasn’t been his best series, he’s been a difference-maker when necessary.

The dirty little secret about the Lightning in this series? That it’s over already if not for the play of Vasilevskiy, who’s kept games close that shouldn’t have been that way.

Which one of these young netminders comes up big in Game 7? And does one of them come unraveled?

5. The Lightning Power Play

Since Game 1 of the series, the Penguins are 4-for-15 on the power play. The Lightning, on the other hand, are 1-for-10. Pittsburgh has scored some momentous goals on the man advantage in the series – Sidney Crosby’s Game 3 tally, Phil Kessel’s opening goal of Game 6 – but Tampa hasn’t gotten the same kick in the rear from its power play.

Where have you gone, Steven Stamkos?

6. The Game 7 History

Via the NHL: Tampa Bay is 5-1 all-time in Game 7s, including a 1-0 win vs. Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal. The Penguins’ last Game 7 win clinched the 2009 Stanley Cup Final. Pittsburgh has not won a Game 7 at home since 1995, and the Penguins are 0-4 in home Game 7s in that span.

The past isn’t necessarily prologue, of course. Unless you’re talking about only a year ago, with basically the same team. Which brings us to …

7. Lightning Lessons

All the Tampa Bay Lightning could talk about after Game 5 were the lessons they learned last season in the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers, and how they would apply to not losing Game 6 this time ‘round.

And then they lost Game 6. Again.

But there is one other lesson to be learned from last season’s conference final.

“Well, I could take from last year, when we went to Game 7, we won Game 7,” said coach Jon Cooper.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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