It's been four years, but the Tampa Bay Lightning are back in the playoff party. It's been a wild season in Bolts camp, from the new owner, new coach and new general manager a summer ago to the complete rebound of the team back into contention for the Stanley Cup.
There have been a lot of steps taken in less than a year, and on Wednesday night, the Bolts take another step towards regaining what they had just seven years ago -- the Stanley Cup.
It won't be easy, though. Despite all of their injury woes and all of the obstacles they've had in the course of the last seven months, the Pittsburgh Penguins enter the postseason with home-ice advantage and a hope that, with a little hard work to start and a bump from a refreshed, healthy Sidney Crosby a bit down the road, they too could win the whole thing this year.
These are two of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference this year, and they face off in this first round. It's going to be a hell of a series. For the Penguins, the key is to get out to an early lead.
When the Lightning get ahead, they're able to fall into the defensive shell (ok, let's just call it the trap) that coach Guy Boucher employs, and if they take the lead in the last 30 minutes of the game, it might be over. Pittsburgh is not a good team when coming from behind, and they're going to need to hold leads of their own to win this series.
Marc-Andre Fleury is Wednesday's Game 1 starter, of course, and he'll need to continue as the Penguins MVP. He's known for stepping up his game this time of year and Pittsburgh needs him. For Tampa, it's all about the offensive firepower getting on a roll. The Pens defense will have their hands full, especially with the lethal Lightning power play. Shutting down the trio of Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos will be vitally important to win the series.
For now, it's about winning Game 1, which can be seen Wednesday in local markets in the U.S. and on CBC in Eastern Canada at 7 p.m. ET. For more on the game, check in with our Lightning blog, Raw Charge, as well as our Penguins blog, Pensburgh. You can find full coverage from us here at SBNation.com right here.