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Penguins pay price for sloppy play in Game 1

Tampa Bay stifles Pittsburgh's transition game, takes advantage of errors to win opener

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / NHL.com Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Through the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins repeatedly burned opponents with their speed in the transition game.

They found out Friday what it feels like to be on the receiving end, getting beaten at their own game in a 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final at Consol Energy Center.

The Lightning showed they're a pretty fast team too and an opportunistic one with Alex Killorn scoring their first goal on a breakaway with 1:14 left in the first period and Jonathan Drouin finishing off a 3-on-1 rush with 1:35 left in the second to open up a 3-0 lead.

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm1: Drouin scores off Palat's dish on break

It was a missed opportunity for the Penguins, who couldn't take advantage after the Lightning lost starting goaltender Ben Bishop with an apparent left knee injury 12:25 into the game. They had numerous chances against 21-year-old backup Andrei Vasilevskiy, but after Patric Hornqvist scored on the power play with 54.6 seconds left in the second period to trim the deficit to two, they could not score in the third despite outshooting the Lightning 16-5.

"I don't think they saw our best today," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I know this team has set a high standard for their play. I don't think it was our best game, and that's what we need in order to have success at this point in the season."

In defeating the New York Rangers in five games in the first round and the Washington Capitals in six games in the second round, the Penguins were the opportunistic team; they used their speed to turn mistakes into odd-man rushes and goals. On Friday, they were the team that was sloppy with the puck and the Lightning's skilled players made them pay.

"That's where they got all their opportunities, from transition," Penguins goaltender Matt Murray said. "It's nothing they're doing that's overwhelming us. We're just giving them a couple too many turnovers and they're a fast, skilled group on transition. I think it's something we gave to them. It's not necessarily them outplaying us. It's something that can be fixed for sure."

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm1: Killorn gets free and beats Murray

If the Penguins don't fix it, they're going to have trouble winning this series and reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since they won their last championship in 2009.

The Lightning have impressed by getting this far without captain Steven Stamkos, who is recovering from a blood clot, and top-pair defenseman Anton Stralman, who is working his way back from a fractured left fibula. Some tried to discredit their wins against the Detroit Red Wings and the New York Islanders in the first two rounds by saying Tampa Bay had an easier path in making to the conference final for the second year in a row.

The Penguins may have faced higher-quality teams in the Rangers and the Capitals, who captured the Presidents' Trophy, but the Lightning proved Friday that their presence in this series is no fluke.

Their first goal was set up by a long stretch pass from defenseman Victor Hedman. From his own goal line, Hedman banked the puck off the boards up to Killorn at the far blue line. Killorn got a step on Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta and raced in on the left wing before cutting to the net and slipping the puck between Murray's pads.

"Tampa has a very good transition game. We knew that going in," Sullivan said. "So we've got to make sure that we're diligent with our decisions with the puck and in those 50-50 battles. We've got to stay above people and stay on the right side so we don't allow some of the odd-man rushes. I think if we cut the quality of the chances down, it gives our team a better chance to win."

Video: See what Sullivan had to say to the media

The play that led to the Lightning's third goal started with Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin losing the puck off the right half-wall in the Tampa Bay end. Penguins defenseman Kris Letang then stepped up to try to get the puck back, but Valtteri Filppula chipped it past him.

In a blink, the Lightning were off on a 3-on-1 rush. Ondrej Palat made an elevated saucer pass across to Drouin, who made no mistake in rifling the puck home from the right circle.

"They're a really smart team," Hornqvist said. "They like to play tight defense. Then, when they get the puck, they strike really well. We saw that on the third one. It looks we're going to get a chance and we bobble the puck and they get a 3-on-1 and four seconds later it's in the net."

Sullivan mentioned more than once the need to "take the lessons from this game" as they prepare for Game 2 on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The Penguins seemed to be missing the intensity they played with against the Capitals and discovered they are facing an opponent that is skilled enough to cash in on the chances it's given.

"I think we need to be better just understanding how they play, what it looks like," captain Sidney Crosby said. "We've got a better feel for that, but at the end when it's all said and done here we still have another level we've got to find if we want to win games."

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