Usually, when a team is getting ready to face the Pittsburgh Penguins, they’re worrying about how to contend with Pittsburgh’s tremendously skilled lineup. Tonight, however, the Lightning were facing a Pittsburgh club missing some of its top skill players, including Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. The Penguins had several recent Wilkes-Barre/Scranton recalls in the lineup. It was an opportunity for the Bolts to take advantage of a team missing some of its best players. But they couldn’t do it. Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was the difference early on and later, with the help of two youngsters scoring their first NHL goals, the Penguins took control of the game.
For nearly the entire first period, the Penguins had no answer for the Lightning – it was one of Tampa Bay’s best periods in recent games. They had the puck in the Pittsburgh zone for most of the frame, recorded 12 shots and generated at least a half-dozen tremendous scoring chances. But Fleury bailed out his teammates, stopping every shot but one. His best save came during a Lightning power play, when, after kicking out a Ryan Callahan rebound shot, he sprawled to his left to deny an Alex Killorn backhander. The Pens scored first when Brandon Sutter completed a nice shorthanded rush and finished with a shot off the post and in. But on the same man advantage, Jonathan Drouin slid home a rebound of a Tyler Johnson shot. That goal salvaged a first period tie for the Bolts, but if not for Fleury, the Lightning would have been up by multiple goals.
During the first, Ben Bishop was injured, so Evgeni Nabokov took over in the second. On the opening shift, Killorn got loose in front, but Fleury denied yet another attempt. Then, a messy exchange between Nabokov and Brian Boyle eventually led to a Pittsburgh steal and a goal for rookie Bryan Rust – his first in the NHL. That goal buoyed the Pens, who began defending more effectively in their own zone and spending more time in the Lightning end. A late second period power play goal for Steve Downie extended the Pittsburgh lead and added to the home team’s swagger.
Pittsburgh controlled play for much of the third. The Pens were hungrier on loose pucks and found open ice in the offensive zone. Brian Dumoulin’s first NHL goal made it 4-1. Despite Nikita Kucherov’s late goal following a Pittsburgh turnover, the Bolts could get no closer.
Before this game, head coach Jon Cooper described the elements that he felt would result in a Lightning win. First, get the lead (the Bolts have not led in any of their recent losses). Second, win the special teams battle (the Lightning had just two PPG in their last six games). Third, defend well and keep the goals against to under three. None of those things happened. Fleury’s tremendous performance in the first kept the Bolts from grabbing the lead. Despite scoring a PPG, the Lightning not only also surrendered a power play goal, but also a shorthanded marker. And, as has been in the case in each of their four losses over the past five games, the Bolts allowed more than two goals.
Undoubtedly, the Lightning are in a tough stretch right now. It’ll be interesting to see how they respond to this adversity Tuesday in Philadelphia.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Bobby “The Chief” Taylor:
Downie’s PPG, which gave the Penguins a 3-1 lead in the final minute of the second period.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Bobby “The Chief” Taylor):
1.Marc-Andre Fleury – Penguins. 28 saves. Made a number of spectacular saves early in the game.
2.Steve Downie – Penguins. GWG on PP and assist.
3.Brandon Sutter – Penguins. SHG.