Two teams with Stanley Cup expectations clash Saturday night when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Lightning has gone to the Stanley Cup Final three years in a row, winning the first two of those times before falling to Colorado this year.

The Penguins have lost in the opening round of the playoffs four straight years, but they attribute that largely to key injuries and spotty goaltending. Of higher importance to them is the fact that their core three veterans, who each have three Cup rings, are back for their 17th season together and possibly another longer postseason run.

Centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and defenseman Kris Letang have set the record for longevity for three teammates in the NHL. When they took the ice Thursday for the Pittsburgh opener against Arizona, the players tied the New York Yankees’ Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada from 1995-2011 for the longest stretch for three teammates in major North American sports history.

Perhaps the biggest concern of the Penguins’ big three has been Malkin, who re-signed at the last minute over the summer to avoid free agency and who played just half a season in 2021-22 after major knee surgery.

But Malkin and the other two might have helped dispel doubt, when, against the Coyotes on Thursday, Crosby had a goal and two assists, Malkin scored and Letang had two assists in a 6-2 win.

“We still have fun every day,” Malkin said. “We play against each other and joke around. We’re like kids, but big kids. We have fun every day, not just on the ice but in the locker room, on the plane, in hotels. Just try to enjoy life.

He’s taking the games seriously, though.

“The game is a huge game against Tampa,” Malkin said. “Every day, every game you have to be better, not just against a (rebuilding) team like Arizona. We need to play better every game against the top (teams), too.”

Pittsburgh could have a couple of advantages Saturday. The Lightning played Friday, a 5-2 win in Columbus while Pittsburgh was off, and Tampa Bay’s No. 1 goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, a former Vezina Trophy winner, made 26 saves.

That means it is likely that backup Brian Elliott will make his first start of the season Saturday and is expected to face Pittsburgh’s No. 1, Tristan Jarry.

Tampa Bay opened the season with a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers and will be closing a three-game, season-opening road trip against the Penguins.

The Lightning was outshot in its opener 39-25, but reversed that Friday, outshooting the Blue Jackets 39-28.

“It was a turnaround from the other night in New York. We were a better team (Friday),” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “It was a well-rounded game, something we needed, and now we’ve just got to carry it in to (Saturday).

“I think everybody played well. Did we make some mistakes? We did. I think (Vasilevskiy) was there to bail us out when we needed.”

Tampa Bay veteran captain Steven Stamkos has three goals through two games.

–Field Level Media