The Tampa Bay Lightning were on a six-game road point streak entering Friday's game at Pittsburgh, but the defending Stanley Cup champions proved to be too much for even the red-hot Bolts to handle in a 5-2 loss.
The Lightning saw Adam Erne score his first NHL goal to net the game's opening score. Recently-acquired goaltender Peter Budaj made his Bolts debut and gave his new squad plenty of optimism for his future with the club.
Tampa Bay, however, couldn't capitalize on the performances of its newcomers. After a positive start for the Lightning in the first period -- a departure from recent outings -- Pittsburgh started to take command in the second, sending wave after wave of pressure at Budaj's goal until the Bolts finally buckled.
The Bolts have little time to regroup as they have a quick turnaround Saturday in Buffalo.
Tampa Bay showed promise early but fizzled down the stretch. What changed as the game wore on?
We'll look at where it all went wrong for the Bolts' in 3 Things we learned from a Steel City loss.
Video: Cooper on loss to Pittsburgh
1. DÉJÀ VU
Friday's game had an eerily similar feeling to so many we saw in last year's Eastern Conference Final.
The Penguins followed the same script: After giving up the game's opening goal, they suffocated the Lightning under unrelenting pressure, keeping the puck away from the Bolts and firing off plenty of scoring chances at Budaj.
The Bolts scored the opening goal a little more than six minutes into the second period, but that lead felt tenuous as Pittsburgh merely upped its tempo once falling behind by a goal.
Inevitably, the Penguins got on the board on a power play, Lightning killer Evgeni Malkin getting a free look on the back post just six seconds into the man-advantage. Malkin continued to do what he does best: victimize the Bolts. Later in the period, he ripped a shot from the slot past Budaj to put the Pens up 2-1.
"I don't think we were skating, getting pucks deep like we were in the first," Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin said. "I thought in the first period we were getting pucks deep, creating offense that way. But in the second we stopped trying to get it in deep and turned it over in the neutral zone. A team like that with speed and skill will make you pay."
And just like last year's playoff series, whenever the Lightning made something positive happen, the Penguins had a response. Nikita Kucherov leveled the score 2-2 early in the third period to breathe life into the Bolts.
The Pens quickly snuffed it, Mark Streit, who was a member of the Bolts for all of about 30 minutes on trade deadline day, answered 1:28 after Kucherov's goal to put Pittsburgh back in front.
"Ultimately, our timing was bad," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "…We go to the third and score early and it's a tie game, and then we give it up on the next shift. We can't do that. We just kept chasing the game."
Video: TBL@PIT: Budaj slides across to deny Streit
2. BUDAJ ROCKIN'
The Lightning went with recently-acquired goaltender Peter Budaj on Friday, the former Los Angeles King owning a solid 3-1-2 record in eight career appearances against Pittsburgh.
This season, Budaj was even better versus the Penguins, winning both of his starts, including a 39-save shutout performance in his last meeting with the Pens.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper decided to go with the new guy to start the first half of a back-to-back set, hoping his previous success would carry over. Budaj acquitted himself well in his first appearance with the Bolts. Unfortunately, his good fortune against the Pens didn't follow.
Budaj made 30 saves in a strong performance against the Penguins. But there was just too much coming Budaj's way for him to stop it all.
"I thought he was exceptional," Cooper said. "He was really good. I can't fault him on any of the goals. It's the five guys in front of him giving up the chances. He stopped everything he was supposed to."
Pittsburgh connected twice on the power play and added an empty-net goal to account for three of their five goals. The Lightning were soundly defeated in the special teams battle.
"Their power plays kind of ate us up here the three games we've played them," Cooper said. "You can't kill off the penalties, it's going to be tough, and it was for us tonight."
Video: Drouin on 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh
3. TURNOVERS HURT
The Lightning did a great job in the first period keeping mistakes to a minimum and playing a sound, smart road game against an offensively-gifted team. But the Bolts got away from mistake-free hockey in the second, the Penguins forcing a number of turnovers that led to Tampa Bay's downfall.
"We just turned it over," Cooper said. "Turnovers can kill, against teams like Pittsburgh. That's what killed us. It just swung the momentum."
The Lightning went from a team satisfied with their play in the first period to one buried deep inside its own zone for much of the second and portions of the third because they couldn't keep possession of the puck.
"I thought we were definitely nice and controlled and it was pretty even, and then we just made dumb mistakes," Cooper said. "One of them was a really bad change. We basically gave them that one and now you're continuing to chase the game."