What an exciting, entertaining game. The contest featured lots of offense, scoring chances, momentum swings and great saves from both goaltenders. Two teams with explosive offensive talent put on a display of skill tonight. Fortunately for the Lightning, they were able to withstand Pittsburgh's surges and hold on for their second consecutive victory.
It's true that the Lightning don't want to allow four goals and 40 shots in a game on a regular basis. But they were able to offset those numbers with a dynamic offensive performance themselves. If not for the play of Pittsburgh goalie Antti Niemi, the Lightning would have won this game in a blowout. But Niemi's netminding, especially in the first two periods, helped his team stay within striking distance.
The Lightning did score two goals in the first period, but Niemi also made 14 saves in the opening frame. A good half-dozen of those were good-to-great stops. Still, thanks to Slater Koekkoek's first NHL goal and Victor Hedman's power play marker with 1/10 of a second left in the period, the Lightning had a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes. Most of the period was played in the Pittsburgh defensive zone, but the Penguins did enjoy one segment of momentum fairly late in the period. During that time, they had a strong power play chance and they scored their first goal four seconds after the power play ended. That Jake Guentzel tally momentarily tied the score, but Hedman's goal just before the buzzer restored momentum to the Lightning.
On another Lightning power play early in the second, Steven Stamkos netted his 112th career power play goal. In doing so, he tied Vinny Lecavalier for the franchise record. The Lightning had a number of good looks to extend the lead even more, but Niemi kept the score at 3-1. Conor Sheary's breakaway goal pulled the Pens to within one before Nikita Kucherov answered less than a minute later. Both goals were perfect shots into the top of the net.
The Penguins' power play looked very dangerous in their first three chances. As I already mentioned, Guentzel's first period goal came four seconds after a power play ended. During the second chance, when the score was 3-1 Lightning, Andrei Vasilevskiy robbed Patric Hornqvist to keep Pittsburgh off the board. But on the third opportunity, Bryan Rust roofed a rebound shot from the slot to cut the Lightning lead to 4-3. When the Pens received another power play with 4:15 left in the second, they had a chance to tie the game. But the Lightning had a terrific kill and then, as Koekkoek exited the penalty box, he joined Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn on a three-on-one. Koekkoek netted his second career goal to extend the lead back to 5-3.
It was a tale of two periods in the third. The Bolts had another strong kill early in the frame and dictated play for most of the first 10 minutes. They enjoyed the majority of the puck possession and kept Pittsburgh out of the offensive zone. But at the halfway mark, the Lightning failed to clear a puck from their end and moments later, Matt Hunwick scored on a rebound. The Lightning lead was back to one and half a period remained.
The Pens had several excellent chances to tie the score during those final 10 minutes, including a breakaway for Guentzel. But Vasilevskiy shut the door, finishing with 11 third period stops and preserving the Lightning win.
So there were moments and segments in this game when the Lightning were back on their heels. That can happen against a dynamic offensive team like Pittsburgh. But as a whole, the Lightning did outplay the Pens - particularly in the first period. And after that first period, the Lightning never let the Pens tie the score, even though Pittsburgh rallied to within a goal on three different occasions.
Like their victory over Washington on Monday, this was a very good win for the Lightning against one of the best teams in the league. They'll look to complete a three-game sweep of the homestand when St. Louis visits on Saturday.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Koekkoek's second goal, making the score 5-3.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
- Alex Killorn - Lightning. Career-high four assists.
- Slater Koekkoek - Lightning. First two NHL goals.
- Brayden Point - Lightning. 20:37 TOI. Strong overall game.