Adam Hall, James Neal

Big Game James: James Neal gives Penguins 3-1 series lead with double OT winner against Lightning

Penguins fans have been hurting to see James Neal struggle so much of late with Pittsburgh. Before tonight’s Game 4 against Tampa Bay, the last time Neal scored a goal was March 8 against Buffalo. Since then he’s epitomized the term “snake bitten” when it comes to generating offense. They often say the one way to cure your ills as a goal scorer is to just throw anything at the net.

Neal took that advice at 3:38 of the second overtime and ripped a shot from the half boards that somehow found a way to get by Dwayne Roloson to give the Penguins a 3-2 win in the game and a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. The goal was Neal’s first career playoff goal.

For Roloson, the goal was a cruel twist of fate after making 50 saves in a losing effort. A goalie can’t do much more than that to help his team win a game but you have to get more out of your teammates and Roloson didn’t have that. The Penguins did their damage in regulation with grinders Tyler Kennedy and Arron Asham scoring to put the Pens up 2-0 but the Lightning whittled away. Martin St. Louis scored in the second period while Sean Bergenheim tied the game up late in the third to send it to overtime.

For Pittsburgh the win sends them back home with a chance to end the series and put the Penguins into the conference semifinals. It’s a highly enviable position for them to be in and unless the Lightning can find a way to get through the Penguins defense and generate more offense, they’re in big trouble. Marc-Andre Fleury only had to make 29 saves tonight through 83 minutes worth of game. That kind of offense won’t cut it.

The Penguins just need to keep being tough and keep doing what they do to slow down the Lightning’s best players. With their ability to sustain defensive pressure for a full game, things aren’t shaping up very well for Tampa Bay in Game 5 on Saturday afternoon at 12 noon.

Canucks say Markstrom (hamstring) out another week — could it be longer?

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Bit of uncertainty out of Vancouver regarding the health of backup goalie Jacob Markstrom.

Markstrom, a late drop from the Canucks’ 5-1 opening-night win over Calgary, has suffered a hamstring injury that will keep him sidelined for another week, the club announced on Thursday.

With Markstrom out, backup duties will stay with AHL call-up Richard Bachman, who served as Ryan Miller‘s No. 2 on Wednesday.

Now, the focus turns to how long Bachman keeps those duties.

Per a Sportsnet report, Markstrom could miss up to three weeks of action with his injury. If that’s the case, Bachman will almost certainly be called into action; the Canucks will play eight games in 17 nights starting with Saturday’s home-opener against the Flames, which includes back-to-backs in Los Angeles and Anaheim on Oct. 12 and 13.

It would be asking a lot of the No. 1, 35-year-old Ryan Miller, to shoulder that entire load.

Bachman does have some NHL experience, with nearly 50 games to his credit. That includes a 3-2-0 record with the Oilers last year, in which he posted a 2.84 GAA and .911 save percentage.

McDavid will center Hall and Slepyshev

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ST. LOUIS (AP) Edmonton Oilers rookie Connor McDavid said he didn’t have any trouble falling asleep on the eve of his professional debut.

But when he woke up on Thursday he said it finally hit him.

“In the days leading up I wasn’t really thinking about it too much,” McDavid said. “Kind of when I woke up this morning, I guess that’s kind of when it hit me that I’ll be playing in my first NHL game. I think that’s when I first realized.”

When the Oilers play at the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night, all eyes will be on the 18-year-old McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and the most hyped player to enter the NHL since Sidney Crosby of the Penguins made his debut a decade ago.

Speaking in front of a crowd of reporters on Thursday following his team’s morning skate, the soft-spoken rookie admitted to having some butterflies but said he felt pretty good and was excited to get going.

“It’s just special,” McDavid said of his NHL debut. “I’m living out my dream, so there’s nothing better than that. I’m just really looking forward to tonight.”

McDavid will be centering the Oilers’ second line against the Blues with Taylor Hall on the left wing and Anton Slepyshev on the right. Hall was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, while Slepyshev will also be making his NHL debut on Thursday night.

“We all see what he can do in practice and the games,” Hall said of McDavid. “It’s important to remember he’s 18. I’m 23 and I still have bad games. Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world and still has bad games. There’s going to be some trials and some errors, but I think that he’s in a position to succeed and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow.”

Oilers coach Todd McLellan, hired in May after spending seven seasons with the San Jose Sharks, has already gotten accustomed to receiving questions about McDavid.

The first few questions McLellan was asked on Thursday were about the NHL’s most popular newcomer.

“What I’ve found with him is he’s working really hard to just be himself and fit in,” the coach said. “He doesn’t want to be special, he doesn’t want to be treated any differently but he obviously is. He’s trying to adapt to that and he’s doing a very good job of it personally and collectively I think our team has done a good job around him.”

McLellan said there are three levels of pressure surrounding him.

The first is McDavid’s individual expectations, which he is sure are extremely high. The second comes from the rookie’s teammates, coaching staff, organization and city of Edmonton.

“But where it really changes is the national, international and world-wide eyes being on him,” McLellan said. “How does that compare to some of the other players I’ve been around? I haven’t been around an 18-year-old who has had to deal with that. It’s new to all of us.

“I did spend some time talking to Sid (Sidney Crosby) about his experience and even since then the world’s really changed as far as media and social media and that type of stuff. This is a new adventure for everybody involved. I know Connor has the tools to handle the pressure and we’ll do everything we can to help him.”