TAMPA, Florida - The Penguins deserved better.
Pittsburgh came 56.8 seconds away from pulling off a dramatic upset against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Actually, the Penguins came inches away from pulling off a dramatic game-tying goal with .9 seconds left in the game.
But alas, Tampa Bay scored in the final minute of the third period and held off a late Penguins surge for a 3-2 victory on Wednesday night.
The deck was stacked against Pittsburgh when the puck dropped at Amalie Arena for the game. After all, consider that the Penguins were…
*Playing the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that tied an NHL-record with 62 wins last season easily winning the President's Trophy.
*Playing a Tampa Bay team that struggled to start the season and was put through the ringer during practice and challenged by its head coach, Jon Cooper, this week.
*Playing a Tampa Bay team that had three days of rest since its last game played.
Meanwhile, the Penguins were…
*Playing on back-to-back nights.
*Playing without elite center Evgeni Malkin, top-tier defenseman Brian Dumoulin and dynamic forward Alex Galchenyuk.
*Oh, and playing without Bryan Rust, Nick Bjugstad and Adam Johnson.
*Oh, and playing with defenseman Juuso Riikola at forward, and with backup goaltender Tristan Jarry between the pipes.
The odds were not in Pittsburgh's favor. Literally. BetRivers.com had the Penguins at +195 as the underdog.
All that said, the Penguins had a 2-1 lead into the third period and the game was tied with under one-minute left in regulation. Pittsburgh deserved to get at least one point out of this game, if not two.
"I thought we played really hard against a team that's a pretty deep team," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. "This is a game that could have gone either way. It didn't go our way."
Despite falling behind 3-2 in the final minute of regulation, the Penguins put up a valiant effort in that remaining 56.8 seconds. And with .9 seconds remaining on the clock defenseman Kris Letang shot a puck toward the empty net that was gloved by a sprawling Andrei Vasilevskiy.
However, it appeared that the puck may have crossed the goal line while in the netminder's glove. After a lengthy review, the referees could not determine if the puck had indeed crossed over. So no goal was awarded to Pittsburgh, and Tampa was awarded a victory.
"I thought (it went in). That might be wishful thinking," captain Sidney Crosby said. "There has be some way they can definitively tell. We have to know for sure. There are angles they have that we don't get to see.
"It looks like it's in his (glove) webbing. And for a split second it looked like his webbing was over the line. Maybe they can't tell based on it being in his glove. I'd like to think there is some technology out there that can tell whether it's over the line or not."
The Penguins took two penalties in the final five minutes of the third period. They were able to kill off the opening penalty, but the Lightning struck on the second.
"You hoped to gain some momentum down the stretch and you end up killing penalties," Sullivan said. "I thought, for the most part, the penalty kill was terrific most of the night. We might have given up one chance and it was in the net."
The first of those two penalties was called on forward Zach Aston-Reese for "throwing his stick" to teammate Marcus Pettersson, after the defenseman lost his own stick. It's a penalty that isn't called very often, but Sullivan didn't seem convinced of the play.
"Did he throw it or drop it?" Sullivan said. "I'm not sure which."
Penguins forward Brandon Tanev scored one of the nicest goals of the season - and that's saying something for a team that has Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Jake Guentzel on the roster.
Tanev danced through a few Lightning players in the slot and took a shot. He recovered his own rebound, swooped around the back of the net into the opposite circle. From there he cut to the net, pulled the puck to his backhand and lifted it into the top of the twine from an impossible angle.
"I waited as much as I can and pulled the puck. I was fortunate to get it up over top of him," Tanev said.
Video: PIT@TBL: Tanev circles the net, fires backhand goal
With their lineup depleted, the Penguins couldn't match Tampa's talent. But Pittsburgh could outwork them, as the team has done against its opponents for the better part of this young season.
"We pushed back," Sullivan said. "I like our mindset. We're resilient right now. The adversities we faced in the game, guys are reacting the right way to it. That's all you can do. Control your own attitude, effort and execution.
"It's unfortunate we didn't get the results here over the last couple of games, but if we keep playing this way the results will come."