For a good portion of this game, the Lightning went toe-to-toe with the Pittsburgh Penguins. They forechecked effectively against the Pittsburgh defense and, as a result, earned long, offensive zone shifts. They did well to clear pucks out of their own end, so that they didn't have to spend too much time defending against Pittsburgh's skilled players. They forced Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray to make a number of tough saves.
Unfortunately for the Lightning, however, they couldn't maintain that style of play for the full 60 minutes. And when the Penguins elevated their game, the Lightning dipped. During the first of those Pittsburgh surges, the Penguins rallied from a 1-0 second period deficit to grab a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes. Then, following Nikita Kucherov's early third period power play goal, the Penguins retook the lead just 1:28 later. Finally, when the Penguins had a chance to put the game away with a late power play opportunity, they got a key insurance goal from Justin Schultz and increased their lead to 4-2.
So ultimately, in the game's defining moments, the Penguins responded and the Lightning didn't. Give credit to the Penguins for dictating play during those stretches - they are a terrific team. What makes those segments disappointing, at least from the Lightning's perspective, is that Tampa Bay greatly aided the Pittsburgh surges with sloppy play. The Penguins had virtually all the puck possession during those times, because when the Lightning momentarily had the puck, they immediately gave it back to Pittsburgh.
So this result leaves a sour taste. Because the Lightning showed during the first period, early part of the second and middle part of the third that they were capable of playing the way they needed to in order to have success against the Pens. But their dips cost them dearly.
From a positive note, Adam Erne netted his first NHL goal. Kucherov continued his offensive tear and now has scored a goal in a career-best five consecutive games. And Peter Budaj had a strong Lightning debut, keeping the Lightning in the game during those Pittsburgh surges.
The Lightning must avoid regulation losses down the stretch. But losing this game is not as damaging as a loss to a club that is also battling for one of the final Eastern Conference playoff spots. They'll see one of those teams tomorrow when they finish the back-to-back in Buffalo.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Mark Streit's GWG in the third, just 1:28 after Kucherov had tied the score.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
- Evgeny Malkin - Penguins. Two goals and assist.
- Sidney Crosby - Penguins. Two assists.
- Justin Schultz - Penguins. Goal and assist.