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NHL Eastern Conference Final Game 4 Prediction
The Tampa Bay Lightning have clearly looked second best through the first three games of the Eastern Conference final against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The defending East champs need to rectify that scenario immediately.
Pens Vs Lightning Game 4 Betting Lines & Analysis
By Bob Duff
Pittsburgh Penguins (-147) at Tampa Bay Lightning (+400)
Losers of two straight and down 2-1 in this series, the cavalry isn't about to ride to the rescue for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Captain Steve Stamkos (blood clot), the team's regular-season goals leader with 36 and Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop (lower-body injury) won't be in the lineup for Game 4 at Amalie Arena. Bishop practiced Thursday and feels he's getting close to a return but Stamkos, who remains on blood thinner medication, frankly admitted he might not play at all in the playoffs.
The Penguins, meanwhile, find themselves up 2-1 for the third successive series and if you believe in trends, Pittsburgh won Game 4 in the first and second rounds to grab 3-1 stangleholds on those sets. It's the first time Tampa Bay has found itself trailing in a series in this spring's playoffs.
A good sign for the Lightning was that Tyler Johnson, Tampa's leading goal scorer through the first two rounds, tallied his first marker of the series in Game 3. Lightning coach Jon Cooper juggled his lines, reuniting the Triplets combo of Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat and that unit scored twice. He also dropped Jonathan Drouin, whose offensive creativity is often offset by his cheating and chance taking on the defensive side of the puck, to the third line. Johnson now has 19 career playoff goals, moving him past Brad Richards into fourth on the Lightning's all-time list.
Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin garnered an assist in Game 3 for his first point in six games. Along with captain Sidney Crosby's back-to-back game-winning goals, the Penguins are beginning to get offense from the their top players but their slowdown continues to be offset by the steady production of the third line of Nick Bonino, Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin, who have combined for 3-6-9 numbers in this series. They are 14-25-39 together during the playoffs.
Pittsburgh forward Patric Hornqvist, who plays on Crosby's line, blocked a shot with his hand late in Game 3 but is expected to play in Game 4. Only three active NHL players with a minimum of 20 career playoff games have averaged more than a point per game and all three play for the Penguins - Crosby (1.15), Malkin (1.06) and Kessel (1.03).
Pick: The Lightning (+400)
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