By BRETT HUSTON
(AP) -- The Pittsburgh Penguins were left waiting for a Sidney Crosby return that never came in last season's Eastern Conference quarterfinals, and their offensive woes ultimately cost them against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Still without their captain, the Penguins aren't having much trouble finding the back of the net lately.
Coming off a win thanks to a four-goal third period, Pittsburgh looks to exact some revenge against the Lightning when the clubs meet Thursday night at the St. Pete Times Forum for the first time since their seven-game playoff battle.
The Penguins (11-4-3) were hoping Crosby would return in time for the postseason from the concussion that had sidelined him since early January, but they had to face Tampa Bay without both he and Evgeni Malkin (torn ACL).
An offense that scored 10 goals while giving Pittsburgh a 3-1 advantage fell completely silent, scoring four in the final three games as the Lightning roared back to win the series.
"It definitely leaves a little bit of a bitter feeling when a team knocks you out of the playoffs," center Jordan Staal said Wednesday.
Crosby has been ruled out for Thursday's game though he'll travel with the team for the two-game Florida trip, and while a definitive date hasn't been set, all signs point to his return happening soon.
If the Penguins keep playing like they did in the third period Tuesday, Crosby can take his time. Down 3-1 after the first against visiting Colorado, Pittsburgh scored once in the second and four times in the third to win 6-3.
"You could see in the faces of all the guys between the second and the third, they were ready to go," defenseman Kris Letang told the team's official website. "We had something to prove because we were not playing very well."
The Penguins are 8-2-1 in their last 11 games and have scored at least three goals in each contest.
The Lightning (8-7-2), on the other hand, have had little success finding the back of the net lately - particularly with the man advantage. Tampa Bay went 0 for 11 on the power play in its last two games, a 3-0 loss at St. Louis on Saturday and a 5-2 defeat in Winnipeg on Monday.
"It's a recurring theme for us," coach Guy Boucher told the NHL's official website of the Lightning's man-advantage struggles. "It's nothing new for us. We have to take care of it."
Another recurring theme has been the continued criticism of Tampa Bay's 1-3-1 defensive system, which caused Philadelphia to simply hold the puck in its own zone in a game last week.
The topic was discussed Tuesday at the league's annual general managers' meeting. Several said it's a situation that should be monitored going forward, though Lightning GM Steve Yzerman offered his defense.
"It hasn't happened very often," Yzerman said. "I think the way the game is played - I think virtually every team in the league plays pretty similar, and I think it is a byproduct of the way the rules are now."
Tampa Bay will certainly want to stick to those principles against the Penguins. Including the teams' last meeting of the 2010-11 regular season, Pittsburgh has scored 15 goals in its past eight games against the Lightning and is 1 for 40 on the power play.
Having Malkin available may not be enough to make a difference. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner has just one point in his last five games versus Tampa Bay and hasn't scored in his last five visits to St. Petersburg.
Lightning winger Martin St. Louis has seven goals and eight assists in his last 12 games against Pittsburgh.
Updated November 16, 2011