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NHL Playoff Game Prediction
With a win in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final, the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning can achieve what’s only been done once in three decades – return to the Stanley Cup final the year after being the losing Cup finalist.
Pens Vs Lightning Game 6 Analysis
By Bob Duff
Pittsburgh Penguins (-140) at Tampa Bay Lightning (+120)
Rallying for a 4-3 overtime win in Game 5 at Pittsburgh, the Lightning are poised to win the Eastern Conference title for the second straight spring and return to the Stanley Cup final for the second successive year, something only one losing finalist has accomplished since the 1984-85 season.
That team was the Penguins, who lost a six-game Cup final series to the Detroit Red Wings in 2007-08 but returned in 2008-09 to defeat the Red Wings in seven games to win the Stanley Cup, and the Penguins are utilizing that 2009 Cup win as motivation. They were also down 3-2 in that series but won Games 6 and 7 to take it all.
The Lightning are 2-0 in closeout games this spring. Center Tyler Johnson, who scored Tampa Bay's OT winner in Game 5, has goals in each of the last three games, a career playoff high. In the last two playoff years, Tampa Bay is 12-1 when Johnson scores a goal. Linemate Nikita Kucherov, who tied Game 5 in the late stages of the third period, posted the third three-point game of his NHL playoff career and leads all postseason scorers with 11 goals. He joined Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin as the only players in NHL history to record double-digit goal outputs in successive Stanley Cup seasons prior to their 23rd birthday.
Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury became the 18th goaltender in history to appear in 100 Stanley Cup games but whether gets to 101 in Game 6 is debatable. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was waiting until game day to determine his starting netminder between Fleury and Matt Murray. Andrei Vasillevskiy will again get the nod over the ailing Ben Bishop (lower body injury) for the Lightning.
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, asked to play more minutes due to the fractured ankle suffered by Trevor Daley in Game 4, skated 27:51 in Game 5 and was minus-four. Penguins forward Chris Kunitz has scored in three straight games. Pittsburgh defenseman Brian Dumoulin scored his first career Stanley Cup goal in Game 5 in what his 21st playoff game. Dumoulin has one goal in 93 NHL regular-season games, also scored against the Lightning on Dec. 15, 2014. Malkin has 20-25-45 numbers in 36 regular-season and playoff games against the Lightning.
Pick: The Lightning (+120)
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