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Playing to level of opponent would help, not hinder, Penguins against potent Lightning

Jonathan Bombulie
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Matt Murray snatches the puck out of the air against Lightning in the second period Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018 at

After suffering a decisive 6-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Monday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins lamented their abysmal 1-7-1 record against last-place teams this season.

There’s another side to that coin, though, and it’s one they hope will sustain them through a visit from the powerful Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night.

The Penguins are 5-2-1 this season against the four teams currently in first place in the NHL’s four divisions – the Islanders, Tampa Bay, Winnipeg and Calgary.

“A lot of games are won and lost before the puck’s dropped,” coach Mike Sullivan said, repeating an idea he voiced after Monday’s loss. “It’s about a mindset going in and a readiness and a certain level of urgency and a certain level of purpose to your game that is required to win in this league regardless of who your opponent is.

“I think our team is a good hockey team. When we play the game the right way, we can compete against any team in the league. We have shown that time and time again. We just have to make sure we bring it night in and night out regardless of who our opponent is. We know we’ve got a big challenge tonight. The last game is in the past. We’ve moved by it already. We’re just looking at the one game in front of us.”

Forward Riley Sheahan agreed with his coach’s sentiment.

“These are games that are a little easier … I don’t want to say easier to get up for, but I think you get amped up to play these guys,” he said. “I think it’s an important time of the year, so these games are crucial. We have to figure that out and bring our best to every opponent. I think if we do that, we can have some success.”

One of the two regulation losses the Penguins have suffered against first-place teams came in their first meeting with Tampa Bay. The Lightning scored four power-play goals in a 4-3 victory.

Needless to say, then, Sullivan said staying out of the penalty box will be important for the Penguins on Wednesday night.

“We want to be aggressive,” Sullivan said. “We want to play an in-your-face game, but we just have to make sure we avoid the (unnecessary), avoidable penalties, the stick infractions. We’ve got to make sure we check with our legs and we’re not reaching for people. As long as we have an element of discipline and we don’t give the power play too many opportunities to be the difference, I think it’s going to help us.”

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