This was a dominant victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Outside of the first 10 minutes of the game, the Penguins thoroughly outplayed the Lightning. The Pens played a hungry, hard game, which allowed them to be tenacious on pucks. They generated a high volume of shots and scoring chances and, in a similar script to Game Two, would have blown the game open if not for the stellar goaltending of Andrei Vasilevskiy. And they were sound defensively, holding the Lightning to just a handful of scoring chances for the entire game.
So high marks to the Penguins, who were deserving of this victory. But, as was the case in Game Two, the Lightning helped fuel Pittsburgh’s attack with a number of turnovers. Some of those turnovers were caused by Pittsburgh’s forechecking. But most of them were simply unforced. Poor puck decisions and/or poor execution on passes plagued the Lightning for the second game in a row. And the Lightning’s shaky puck management, from the Pittsburgh perspective, was the gift that kept on giving. Not only did it allow the Penguins to stay on the attack, it prevented the Lightning from going on offense.
The ice began to tilt towards the Lightning’s defensive zone in the second half of the first period and it continued into the second, a frame in which the Lightning were outshot, 21-6. Still, thanks to Vasilevskiy, the Lightning were 10 seconds away from escaping that period still in a scoreless tie. But an unforced offensive zone turnover in those closing seconds allowed Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin to counter on a two-on-one. Hagelin finished the rebound of Kessel’s initial shot to give the Pens the lead.
The teams combined for five goals in the third, but it was still a more dangerous period for the Penguins than the Lightning. While the Bolts did have a little more offensive zone time in the third, they still yielded 17 third period shots and a number of Grade-A scoring chances. After the Penguins won a series of puck battles in the offensive zone, Nick Bonino set up Kessel for a close range shot that beat Vasilevskiy. On the next shift, though, Tyler Johnson took a pass from Nikita Kucherov, sped past the Pittsburgh defenders and beat Matt Murray on a breakaway. That goal, which came just 14 seconds after Kessel’s tally, cut the Pittsburgh lead to 2-1. About five minutes later, Murray made his best save of the game on a Kucherov open look from the slot, preserving his team’s lead. Shortly thereafter, the Penguins added to their lead when Sidney Crosby scored during a four-on-three power play. Chris Kunitz extended the advantage to 4-1 before Ondrej Palat netted a late goal for the Lightning.
Afterwards, Jon Cooper talked about the need to have a “short memory” in the playoffs. There’s no question that this is a disheartening loss, particularly after the Lightning stated that they wanted more puck possession after their Game Two loss. But Cooper is right. This Pittsburgh win, decisive as it was, did not clinch the series. Instead, the series is back “on serve” now, with the Penguins leading 2-1. A Lightning win on Friday evens things up.
But if that’s going to happen on Friday, the Lightning need a response. Pittsburgh is on a roll and poses a formidable challenge, but there are elements in the Lightning’s game that can be better. Elements they can control. What are some of those elements? A higher battle level will help them win more 50-50 pucks. Less hesitation in the offensive zone will yield more shots and potentially more chances. And most importantly, the Lightning must drastically cut down on their unforced turnovers.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Hagelin’s late second period goal.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Phil Kessel – Penguins. Goal and assist.
2.Sidney Crosby – Penguins. Goal.
3.Andrei Vasilevskiy – Lightning. 44 saves.