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Burns: 3 Things from taking down the Pittsburgh Penguins

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Bolts 5-4 win over the defending Stanley Cup Champions

by Bryan Burns /

The Pittsburgh Penguins entered AMALIE Arena on Thursday as the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, one of those Cups coming at the expense of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who the Penguins defeated in the Eastern Conference Final in 2016 to win their first of two consecutive Cups.

The Pens left AMALIE Arena, however, with their second regulation loss of the season.

Victor Hedman put the Lightning ahead for good in the opening period, ripping a slap shot across the goal line with 0.1 seconds remaining on the first period clock to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 advantage at the first intermission.

The Lightning would never relinquish that lead, although they were challenged often by the Penguins.

The Bolts had an answer each time.

Pittsburgh cut the Lightning lead to 3-2 midway through the second, Nikita Kucherov responded less than a minute later to build it back up to a two-goal advantage.

Bryan Rust netted a power-play marker to make the score 4-3 Lightning. Slater Koekkoek scored his second goal of the game three-and-a-half minutes later to push the Bolts' cushion back to two.

And even though Matt Hunwick scored his first goal in a Pittsburgh sweater to inch the Pens closer midway through the third, Andrei Vasilevskiy made several key saves to help the Lightning fend off the Penguins down the stretch.

There was plenty to like from Thursday's dramatic win. We'll take a look at the key moments in Three Things from taking down the champs.

Video: Cooper | Postgame TBL 5, PIT 4

The Washington Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top team during the 2016-17 regular season.

The Pittsburgh Penguins won their second-straight Stanley Cup last season.

The Lightning beat both teams in consecutive games to show the rest of the Eastern Conference they're going to be one of the top contenders this season.

"Regardless of the time of year, coming in out of camp you just want to get out to a good start," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "You don't want to be chasing so early in the year. I mean, there are teams that stumble out of the gates and have been fine, but for us, I thought it was imperative to get off to a good start. I liked their compete. I liked their fight tonight. There's so many things I liked about the game, and we're pretty sure the fans liked it."

Almost to a man, the Lightning have referenced their loss at the Florida Panthers on Saturday as a turning point of the season, as much as a season that's just four games old can actually have a turning point. The Bolts didn't play the game the right way against the Panthers, and it showed in a dismal 5-3 defeat where they let a 2-0 and 3-1 lead slip away.

They were determined not to let a bad performance happen again playing two of the best teams in the NHL. And although they've given up more goals than they would like - seven in the last two games - the Bolts have to be happy with the way they've controlled play for large stretches of the game against the Caps and the Pens as well as their resiliency to come back from 2-0 and 3-1 down against Washington and answering the Penguins with a goal every time the Pens threatened to tie the game three nights later.

"We've basically since we left Sunrise, we've been a little bit of a different team," Cooper said. "Would we like to have our goals against down? There's no question, but there's a lot to like about our game."

 Video: Koekkoek on scoring 1st career NHL goal


Slater Koekkoek reckoned he's taken a lot of shots in the 50 or so games he's played - it's actually 43 - in the National Hockey League, but none were as lucky as the one that produced his first career NHL goal.

With the game still scoreless in the first period, Koekkoek unleashed a shot from the left point that deflected off the skate of Penguins forward Tom Kuhnhackl and slid past Pens goalie Antti Niemi for the first goal of the game and Koekkoek's milestone moment.

"I don't know what happened. Someone was watching down on me," Koekkoek said after the game. "...I'll take those all day."

Later in the second period after stewing in the penalty box over a questionable interference call against, Koekkoek stepped out, immediately leveled a Pittsburgh skater and started a three-on-one break with Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson. Koekkoek ended up with the puck on his stick in front of Niemi and backhanded a shot through Niemi's legs to score his second goal of the game.

"I was joking that if me, Johnson and Killorn were on a three-on-one, who would you want to get the puck? I would probably be the last option," Koekkoek said. "I was looking for Johnny backdoor but the goalie was right on me, so a little fake and then he opened up his five-hole."

For Koekkoek, Thursday's game was particular cathartic. He made his season debut on Monday against Washington but only played 3:09.

With an extended opportunity against Pittsburgh, Koekkoek took full advantage.

"He's a great teammate, and I think he only played three or four minutes last game and you wouldn't know it with the way he acts," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "He comes to practice, he works and he got an opportunity to play some more tonight and made the best of it. Obviously, congrats to him on his first goal. You wouldn't know it was his first with the way he scored the second."

 Video: Koekkoek scores twice in Bolts' win vs. PIT


Somewhat lost in the excitement of beating the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, the Lightning set a number of franchise marks on Thursday.

With his power-play goal early in the second period, Steven Stamkos not only netted his first goal of the season but also notched his 112th career power-play marker, tying Vincent Lecavalier for most power-play goals in Tampa Bay franchise history.

Nikita Kucherov scored a goal for the fourth-consecutive game to start 2017-18, and his tally against Pittsburgh was the 112th of his career, overtaking Brian Bradley for seventh place among the Bolts' all-time goal scorers.

Alex Killorn established a new career high for scoring in a single game after recording four assists against Pittsburgh, tied for the third-most assists in a game in Lightning history.

"That's a sneaky four assists," Cooper said in his post-game press conference. "I didn't even realize that."

In addition to scoring his first goal of the season, Victor Hedman suited up in his 553rd career game with Tampa Bay to pass Brad Richards and move into sole possession of fifth place on the Bolts' all-time games played list.

For Lightning fans at AMALIE ARENA on Thursday night, there was certainly plenty to cheer.

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