This was a solid bounce-back win for the Lightning after Thursday’s disappointing performance versus Winnipeg. And it came against a quality opponent that had won seven of its previous eight home games.
How the Lightning able to do it? They started extremely well and built an early lead. They defended tenaciously and limited Pittsburgh’s scoring chances. When there were isolated breakdowns, Ben Bishop made key saves. And, unlike Thursday’s third period against the Jets, a frame in which the Lightning blew a 4-1 lead, the Lightning effectively protected their two-goal lead in today’s third period against the Penguins.
The Lightning had a crisp first period. Even though the Penguins recorded 17 shots in the frame, most of those attempts were innocent ones that Bishop easily stopped. The best Pittsburgh chance in the first wasn’t even a shot on goal – Chris Porter put a shot from the slot off the crossbar. The Lightning, on the other hand, had the majority of the puck possession and enjoyed some extended offensive zone shifts. They finally broke through moments after Porter hit the cross bar. The Bolts moved the puck back into the Pittsburgh zone and Vladdy Namestnikov passed it to Anton Stralman at the right point. Stralman faked an initial shot, which allowed him to move around Scott Wilson and have an open shooting lane. Stralman put his shot off the post and in, past Jeff Zatkoff’s stick. Alex Killorn did a nice job of screening Zatkoff as the shot went in.
A few minutes later, Steven Stamkos scored his 300th career regular season goal. It came at the end of another good offensive zone shift for the Lightning. As the Bolts cycled the puck, Matt Carle stepped up to the left circle and slid it back to Killorn at the left point. Killorn’s shot hit off the post behind Zatkoff and Stamkos chipped in the rebound.
The Lightning had a couple of other Grade-A chances in the first, but Zatkoff stopped point blank chances for Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov.
Early in the second, the Lightning extended the lead to 3-0. Carle held in a Pittsburgh clearing attempt at the left point and hurried a quick shot to the net. Just as Killorn did on the first goal, Kucherov effectively screened Zatkoff, who had the puck slip between his pads.
One area of concern for the Lightning on Thursday against the Jets was their power play. It went 0-5 and surrendered a shorthanded goal. The power play also struggled in this game. It went 0-5 again and allowed another shorthanded goal. Just over two minutes after Carle’s goal, the Lightning were on the power play when Tom Kuhnhackl chipped the puck past Victor Hedman and countered on a clean breakaway. He roofed a backhander over Bishop’s glove to get Pittsburgh on the board. It was Kuhnhackl’s first NHL goal.
But the Lightning answered back six minutes later. Jonathan Marchessault took the puck down the right wing into the offensive zone and wired a cross ice pass to Ondrej Palat. Palat quickly fed Tyler Johnson, who was open in front. With Zatkoff forced to move side to side, he was out of position to defend Johnson’s shot. Johnson tapped the puck into the open net to make it 4-1.
Scott Wilson tallied a rebound goal during a four-on-four with just under five minutes left in the period, cutting the Lightning lead to 4-2. Then came one of the most important stretches in the game. Late in the second, the Penguins received a five-on-three lasting 68 seconds. But the Lightning killed off the two-man disadvantage and got into the intermission with their two-goal lead intact.
Up by multiple goals in the third period for the second straight game, the Lightning did a much better job of playing with the lead than on Thursday. It’s true that Pittsburgh had most of the puck possession in the period, but the Lightning managed the puck very well. When they had a chance to clear their d-zone, they did it. When they could dump pucks into the Pittsburgh end and complete a line change, they did it. The Penguins did produce some scoring chances, including two great looks about halfway through the period. But Bishop stopped both Phil Kessel and Chris Kunitz on those back-to-back attempts to preserve the two-goal lead. The Lightning also did a good job of defending when the Pens pulled Zatkoff for an extra attacker with just under three minutes left.
One of the unsung heroes of this game for the Lightning was Cedric Paquette, who was playing his 100th NHL regular season game. He played a hard, tenacious game and effectively got under the skin of some of the Pittsburgh players. He also blocked three shots, including a heavy blast from Trevor Daley during the sixth-attacker situation. That last block forced him out of the game – hopefully, he’ll be able to play Sunday in Carolina.
Speaking of which, Sunday’s contest will be another critical game against a team battling for one of those playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. We’ll see if the Lightning will be able to complete a road weekend sweep.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Bishop’s successive saves on Kessel and Kunitz in the third period.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Matt Carle – Lightning. Goal and assist. Plus three.
2.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 37 saves.
3.Steven Stamkos – Lightning. 300th career goal.