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Penguins expect physical fireworks in matchup with Lightning

Jonathan Bombulie
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Tampa Bay Lightning’s Ryan McDonagh (27) checks Pittsburgh Penguins’ Patric Hornqvist (72) to the ice during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019.

TAMPA, Fla. – The last time the Pittsburgh Penguins met the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Jan. 30 at PPG Paints Arena, it was reasonable to expect a high-flying showdown between two of the NHL’s most skilled offenses.

Instead, it got a little nasty.

Cedric Paquette leveled Kris Letang with a late hit early in the game. Evgeni Malkin fought Steven Stamkos late. Scrums developed after the whistle more often than not.

Letang wasn’t surprised.

“They have a mix of both,” he said. “Their third and fourth line brings a lot of speed and energy and physicality. I was expecting it. They have big defensemen also. It’s what they do.”

Winger Bryan Rust said he thinks previous playoff meetings between the teams have given birth to a bit of a rivalry.

“It definitely got a little bit chippy,” he said. “I think that might have something to do with the history between these two teams. There have been some playoff series and some times where games get close and tight. I think anytime that happens in recent history, things boil over to the following seasons.”

Given the construction of their roster, the Penguins clearly don’t specialize in physical play. Still, they tend to turn in some of their finer performances against aggressive opponents. Meetings with Washington, Winnipeg and Tampa Bay this season are evidence.

“I think it just fires everyone up a little more, gets the competitive juices flowing a little more,” Rust said. “Guys get riled up and once it happens to one or two guys, it’s contagious throughout the bench.”

Coach Mike Sullivan said he’s fine with that, as long as the Penguins don’t forget who they are.

“Teams are going to try to play us different ways,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes teams are going to try to use aggression to beat us, and that’s OK. The most important thing is understanding what our game is and how we have to play in order to be successful. We can’t get lured into someone else’s game. When we do that, when we have that focus and that diligence and that discipline, that’s when I think our team’s at its best.”

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Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.