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Big story: For the second consecutive postseason Pittsburgh faces a Game 7 on its home ice in a series that didn't need to get this far. The Penguins had two opportunities to put the Lightning away after going up 3-1 with a pair of wins in Tampa Bay, but couldn't close them out. Now they must hope their first winner-take-all game at Consol Energy Center turns out differently from the final one they played at Mellon Arena. Pittsburgh was eliminated by Montreal in Game 7 of an Eastern Conference semifinal last year in a series it led 3-2 before the Canadiens rallied.
Lightning: Twelve goals from the offense and only four given up by Dwayne Roloson over the last two games has put Tampa Bay in position to complete the comeback from a 3-1 deficit. The Lightning have won the last two games played at Consol after dropping the series opener. They chased Marc-Andre Fleury and routed the Penguins in Game 5 there, then returned home to pull out a 4-2 victory in Game 6 on Monday with a pair of third-period goals. Steve Downie netted the winner just 67 seconds after Jordan Staal had tied the score, and then ex-Penguin Ryan Malone added insurance at the 9:34 mark. Roloson made 27 saves, none more important than a breakaway stop on Maxime Talbot after Staal's goal that would have put Pittsburgh in front.
"He made some terrific saves and kept us in there," forward Steven Stamkos said. "He had a great stop on Talbot and another one on (Pascal) Dupuis with the rebound. That one was a game-changer and really swung the momentum for us."
Penguins: In one of several first-round matchups where home ice has seemingly meant very little, Pittsburgh was hoping to make it five-out-of-six for the road team by sweeping the portion of the series played in Tampa. The Penguins struck first in Game 6 on a Dupuis goal at 8:23 of the first period, but Teddy Purcell and Sean Bergenheim scored to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead headed into the third. Staal brought the Penguins back into a temporary deadlock, but it was the last puck they got past Roloson on Monday.
"It's a seven-game series. They're a good team," forward James Neal said. "We've played them hard all series long. It comes down to one now. Lay it out on the line … do what we can, and come out with the win."
Who's hot: Downie has registered 1 goal and 4 assists over the last two games for the Lightning and is now tied for third on the team in playoff scoring with 6 points. Vincent Lecavalier has 2 goals and 4 assists during a five-game points streak. Roloson has a 2.05 goals-against average and .941 save percentage for the series. … Talbot has 3 assists in the last two games for the Penguins, tying him for their playoff scoring lead with 4 points.
Injury report: Nothing is expected to change in Game 7 as Pittsburgh will once again be without the services of Sidney Crosby, who has not yet been cleared for full-contact practice with the team.
Stat pack: The Lightning hope this trend continues: Road teams have a .581 winning percentage during the 2011 playoffs (25-18), the highest mark in 43 years. … Martin St. Louis is tied for the playoff lead in scoring with 8 points and has four multi-point games in the series. … Tyler Kennedy of the Penguins had a game-high six shots on Monday and leads all players in the series with 29 shots. That total is tied for second among all playoff performers, behind only James van Riemsdyk, who has 38 for the Flyers.
Puck drop: How much of a role will momentum play in this decisive game? How about past experience in pressure situations?
"We just played two Game 7s because that has been the position we have been in," Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. "That fifth game was a do or die for us and this sixth game was a do or die for us. The seventh game is no different. We just played two."
While Boucher's team may benefit from having been in must-win mode for several days now, it hasn't played in an actual seventh game since beating Calgary in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2004. Pittsburgh won a pair of Game 7s against Washington and Detroit en route to its Cup victory in 2009 and will be looking to bounce back from last year's setback to Montreal.
"I think there is something to be drawn from the emotion and experience of playing Game 7. Do or die for both teams," coach Dan Bylsma said.
"I think we'll lean on some of those experiences, but we also have to play the game. We have to go out and play the game and not just talk about what we've learned in the past. It's a different team. It's a different year. We'll have to be ready and refocused to play that game."