The Tampa Bay Lightning proved that they shouldn’t be taken lightly on Thursday night, as they downed the Penguins, 2-1, at the St. Pete Times Forum.
With the Penguins sitting in fourth place while the Lightning are in fifth in the Eastern Conference, it seems like Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay are headed toward a first-round clash in the playoffs. This prelude offered both teams a nice scouting opportunity, but the Lightning struck early and held off a strong Penguins’ surge to clinch a playoff berth.
After Steve Downie and Martin St. Louis got the Lightning on the board in the first 10 minutes of the game, goaltender Dwayne Roloson held off a furious rally by the Penguins to keep Tampa Bay on top.
After being outshot 8-6 in the first period, the Penguins poured on the pressure, sending 31 shots toward Roloson throughout the rest of the game, while the Lightning only registered 16. Despite some crazy bounces in the crease, though, Pittsburgh only found the twine once.
Mike Rupp’s wrister from the boards in the third period fooled Roloson and set the stage for a frantic finish. The Penguins threw all they had at Tampa Bay, but the Lightning weathered the storm. Ben Lovejoy saved an empty-net goal in the final seconds, but James Neal’s last-second chance didn’t get through Tampa Bay’s defense.
The game featured plenty of up-and-down play with fast-paced rushes at both ends of the ice. If these two teams wind up opponents in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, fans should expect an exciting series.
James Neal has been the shootout hero for the Penguins in the past few weeks, scoring three goals in four Penguins shootout wins. But on Thursday, he tried his best to be the regulation hero, as he was both an offensive and a defensive force.
Several times during the game, Neal crashed the crease on shots and earned some quality rebounds. But he couldn’t quite poke any pucks past Dwayne Roloson.
He finished with five shots and a team-high five hits through 17:58 of ice time. But those five shots don’t give an accurate description of just how many chances Neal created.
Throughout the game, he wreaked havoc in the slot, and he was just one bounce away from sending the game into overtime.
After Ben Lovejoy saved an empty-net goal with the clock winding down and Marc-Andre Fleury sitting on the bench, Neal swooped in and skated up the left side, but Roloson stopped his shot to preserve the win for the Lightning.
After the Lightning took the early lead when Steve Downie smacked the biscuit into the basket, the Penguins were buzzing.
The line of Chris Kunitz, Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy cycled for a lengthy shift and created multiple scoring chances. All three players got good looks at the net, forced some juicy rebounds, and wore down the Lightning to the point where Tampa Bay took an icing call.
But right after that play, Tampa Bay managed to change lines and get Vincent Lecavalier and St. Louis on the ice. Lecavalier knocked down Kris Letang on the forecheck, leaving room for St. Louis to snag the puck and blast a shot top shelf past Fleury.
Despite the Penguins’ best efforts, Pittsburgh couldn’t quite battle back from the two-goal deficit.
(AP) - Martin St. Louis scored his 30th goal of the season, helping the Tampa Bay Lightning clinch their first playoff berth since 2007 with a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.
Steve Downie also scored for the Lightning, who have won three in a row following a four-game losing skid.
Pittsburgh, which had won its previous four road games, got a goal from Michael Rupp.
Penguins center Sidney Crosby, sidelined for nearly three months with a concussion, resumed skating with his teammates in practice. The Pittsburgh captain, out since Jan. 6., is not ready yet to participate in full practices. A return to game action for the postseason has not been completely ruled out.
- With the Lightning clinching a playoff berth with the win, the first round matchup between Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay seems imminent. Pittsburgh currently occupies the fourth spot in the conference with 98 points, while the Lightning are in fifth with 95 points, gaining a little breathing room over sixth-place Montreal (89 points).
- Both Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay won each home game in the season series. The Penguins earned 5-1 and 8-1 wins at CONSOL Energy Center, while the Lightning nabbed a 5-3 win and tonight’s 2-1 win at the St. Pete Times Forum.
- Marc-Andre Fleury continued his impressive stretch that has put him in the conversation for the Vezina (best goalie) and Hart (NHL MVP) Trophies. By bouncing back from a 5-2 loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday and only allowing two goals against Tampa Bay, Fleury has now given up two goals or less in 34 of his last 52 starts.
- The loss marked the end of Pittsburgh’s seven game unbeaten streak on the road, snapping a 5-0-2 road stretch that included a four-game winning streak.
#1. Dwayne Roloson
Goaltender - 35
1 goal allowed
#2. Martin St. Louis
Right Wing - 26
#3. Steve Downie
Right Wing- 9
Author: Tony Jovenitti