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Tampa Bay Lightning ground Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1

By Alan Robinson, The Sports Xchange

PITTSBURGH -- The Tampa Bay Lightning keep losing all their best players to injury, with star goalie Ben Bishop is the latest to go down. What they're not losing are playoff games.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 24 shots after Bishop, the Vezina Trophy finalist, left with a possible serious injury, and the Lightning overcame a lack of depth to neutralize Pittsburgh's stars during a 3-1 victory over the Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

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"It's kind of been the mantra -- we've had guys go down in the playoffs and we wanted to win for him," forward J.T. Brown said.

The Lightning, Stanley Cup finalists a season ago, got a goal from their top line, by Alex Killorn, and two from their second line, by Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin, to beat Pittsburgh for the fourth straight time this season and seize home-ice advantage.

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Game 2 will be Monday night, when the Lightning -- already out without star forward Steven Stamkos and shutdown defenseman Anton Stralman -- are likely to be without Bishop, arguably their most valuable player all season.

"It showed a lot of the strength of our team," to be able to win with yet another star on the sidelines, Palat said.

Bishop, who had played all but 30 minutes during the first two rounds, clutched his left knee in obvious pain and had to be carried off the ice after playing the puck to the side of the net 12:25 into the first. He played the finals last season with a badly injured groin.

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Coach Jon Cooper said X-rays showed no structural damage in Bishop's leg, but he offered no prognosis for the goalie's return.

"That's tough, (when) guys go down in that much pain. ... You feel for the guy, hope he's OK," Lightning center Brian Boyle said. "You know the kind of competitor he is, the teammate he is, and you want to do well for him."

They did, too, with Killorn saying he tapped Bishop on the arm as he was taken off the ice and said, 'We've got this."

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Rather than collapsing without their reliable goalie, the Lightning rallied around Vasilevskiy -- who at 21 years and 293 days, is 61 days younger than Penguins goalie Matt Murray, who became the youngest goalie in 23 years to start Game 1 of a conference finals. Vasilevskiy played 47:35.

"That's what I'm here for," the former first-round draft pick said.

The Penguins had won 22 of 27 dating to the season, but once again got no goals from stars Sidney Crosby (8 games) and Evgeni Malkin (6 games) -- and, unlike the previous round against Washington, their other lines couldn't compensate.

As coach Mike Sullivan said, "We've got to find a way to get back to our game. ... I thought we generated a fair amount of chances. We've got to find a way to convert."

Malkin promised the Penguins would be better, saying, "We've got lots more games (left), and we've got to be better Monday. It's not (an) emotional (letdown) ... it's tough, it's the playoffs and teams are playing tough."

The Penguins outshot the Lightning 35-20, yet found the net only once against disciplined defense.

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"I think we did a good job of defending," said center Valtteri Filppula, who had two assists. "Obviously they have a lot of skill, they spent a lot of time in our zone but we did a good job.

The Lightning began to take control only minutes after Bishop went out and Vasilevskiy went in for only the second time since April 9.

Killorn took defenseman Victor Hedman's long stretch pass and, skating a full stride ahead of Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta, beat Murray with a backhander at 18:46 of the first.

Tampa Bay's 31st goal of the playoffs was the 17th produced by the top line of Killorn, center Tyler Johnson and right wing Nikita Kucherov. Johnson gave the Lightning a big scare when he limped into the locker room with an apparent right knee injury late in the period, but returned in the second period.

Filppula's shot from the left point -- he shot it into traffic, perhaps hoping for a deflection -- rebounded to Ondrej Palat in the lower right circle, and he lifted a backhander past Murray at 2:33.

The Lightning kept pressuring, and they made it 3-0 when Jonathan Drouin finished off a 3-on-1 break by snapping off a shot that sailed under the crossbar almost before Murray (17 saves) could react at 18:25 of the second.

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The Penguins, who couldn't score during a five-minute power play in the first, finally scored 40 seconds later when Crosby set up Patric Hornqvist's power-play goal, his sixth of the playoffs but only their 10th shot on Vasilevskiy -- the top goalie taken in the 2012 draft, held in Pittsburgh.

"We've got to be better, now that we have a better understanding of what they do," Crosby said.

NOTES: Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, out since April 4 following surgery to remove a blood clot near his collarbone, practiced Friday but can't be cleared to play until he is taken off a blood thinner. ... Lightning D Anton Stralman (broken left leg, out since March 25) is skating again, but isn't ready to return. ... Lightning LW J.T. Brown, out since Game 2 of the first round against Detroit with an upper body injury, did return. ... The Lightning swept the three-game season series, but they lost nine straight in Pittsburgh before winning 4-2 on Feb. 20. ... Lightning C Brian Boyle is playing in his third successive Eastern Conference finals, two with Tampa Bay and one with the New York Rangers. ... The Penguins are playing in their eighth conference finals in 25 seasons, tying them with the Detroit Red Wings for the most during that span. ... The Lightning scratched RW Mike Blunden, RW Jonathan Marchessault, RW Erik Condra, D Matt Taormina and D Luke Witkowski. The Penguins held out G Jeff Zatkoff, D Derrick Pouliot, D Justin Schultz, C Oskar Sundqvist and RW Beau Bennett.

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