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Lightning miss chance to close out Penguins

Lose Game 6 of East Final at home, must win Game 7 in Pittsburgh to return to Stanley Cup Final

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

TAMPA -- Because they failed to learn from their history, the Tampa Bay Lightning must now hope they can repeat it.

Just as they did a year ago, the Lightning had an opportunity to advance to the Stanley Cup Final with a win on home ice. And, just as they did a year ago, they squandered the opportunity.

After falling into a three-goal hole and playing passively for two periods, the Lightning's third-period rally came up short in a 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Tuesday at Amalie Arena. Instead of preparing for their second straight Cup Final, they must go back to Consol Energy Center for Game 7 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"We had a great chance tonight and kind of tiptoed around it a little bit," said center Brian Boyle, who scored twice for the Lightning. "We were tentative and weren't aggressive. We weren't on top. We weren't skating."

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm6: Boyle brings the offense for the Bolts

What made this defeat particularly frustrating for the Lightning is that they had talked for two days about being aggressive and making the most of this chance to finish off the Penguins while they had them down. They learned their lesson, they said, from being in this situation a year ago against the New York Rangers in the conference final.

They came out flat in that game and lost 7-3, forcing them to go Madison Square Garden to play a Game 7. They vowed that, regardless of the result Tuesday, they would at least put their best foot forward.

Then they managed four shots on goal in the first period and had 11 by the time they headed to the locker room for the second intermission trailing 3-0.

"Any time you miss an opportunity like this, it's disappointing," right wing Ryan Callahan said. "Our first 40 [minutes] wasn't where it needed to be. We had a good third, but, obviously [it was] too little, too late, and [there is] nothing we can do about it now. We move on, we get past it, forget about this game and go play one game for a chance to advance."

It appeared for a moment that the Lightning had taken a 1-0 lead on a goal from Jonathan Drouin 5:12 into the first period. Amalie Arena was rocking as Drouin fired the puck into a half-empty net with goaltender Matt Murray out of position on the Lightning's first shot on goal.

But Penguins coach Mike Sullivan challenged the play, believing that Drouin was offside. Video replay upheld his challenge, showing Drouin's right skate was across Pittsburgh's blue line early while his left skate was off the ice, and the score remained 0-0.

It would take the Lightning another 2:37 to register their first shot on Murray that counted, but they refused to blame their poor start on that disallowed goal.

"It definitely [stinks] that happened, but we kept playing," Drouin said.

They just weren't playing well.

The Penguins repeatedly pressured the Lightning into turnovers and outshot them 14-4 in the first period. With goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy holding the fort, the Lightning might have been able to escape the first unscathed if not for an untimely delay of game penalty on defenseman Victor Hedman with 2:10 remaining in the period and Anton Stralman already serving an interference penalty.

The Penguins cashed in during the resulting 5-on-3, with Phil Kessel batting in an airborne pass from Sidney Crosby with 1:14 remaining. The Lightning made a small push to begin the second period, but the Penguins responded with Kris Letang's goal through traffic at 7:40.

After Crosby raced through the flatfooted Lightning and beat Vasilevskiy between the pads with 25.6 seconds remaining in the second, Pittsburgh's lead was 3-0.

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm6: Crosby splits D, beats Vasilevskiy

"We weren't executing the way we needed to coming out of the zone," Callahan said. "Our turnovers were there and they seemed to outwork us at times in that first 40 [minutes], which we can't have that happen."

So the Lightning must go back to Pittsburgh now, as they had to go back to Madison Square Garden for a Game 7 last season. Few expected them to defeat Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers with a trip to the Cup Final on the line, but they played a near-perfect road game and advanced with a 2-0 victory.

They must find a way to do it again Thursday.

"I know we can," Callahan said. "I've got confidence in this group. We believe in here that we can do that. We've had success on the road in the playoffs. We've had success in their building already, so it's going to be a good one."

The Lightning have some reasons to be confident. As Callahan noted, they've played well at Consol Energy Center, winning two of three games in this series and five of seven in their two playoff matchups against the Penguins.

They also have the memories of what they did against the Rangers last year after many counted them out.

"Last year when we went to Game 7, we won Game 7, and we'll be thinking about that," coach Jon Cooper said. "Ultimately, we can't spot a team like this a three-goal lead. … Now, you've got to go back to a tough environment, just like the Garden was last year, and you've got to have your A game. That's the lesson we've got ahead of us now.

"We had our chance to knock them out [Tuesday]. Give Pittsburgh a ton of credit for the way they played and how they handled things. They volleyed the ball into our court, and now it's time for us to smash it back."

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