On a night when Nikita Kucherov played his 500th game as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Bolts also sought to extend their winning streak to five games as they hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not only did their stars show up in this one, but they needed a huge effort from the penalty kill in addition to some solid work from Andrei Vasilevskiy in net.
On top of that, the injury bug bit the Bolts again. Two days after losing Jan Rutta to an injury in a win over Vegas, Ryan McDonagh left this game about halfway through due to injury. Despite the setback, the Lightning remained determined to claim victory. Andrei Vasilevskiy also set his sights on setting a new team record Thursday, while the penalty kill delivered when the team needed it the most.
High intensity from the start
Right from the start, this game had a playoff atmosphere to it with how both teams were playing physically. Despite some sloppy passes from the Lightning to start the period, the team created solid scoring opportunities. The Bolts’ defense was tested early, yet prevented the Penguins from scoring. The game remained scoreless until the Lightning finally opened the scoring 9:04 in the first period. Mikhail Sergachev fired a wrist shot that took two deflections before going past Penguins goaltender Matt Murray to make it 1-0 Lightning.
More scoring and late penalties
Minutes later, the Lightning took advantage of a 2-on-1 opportunity with a beautiful setup play created by Brayden Point. A little bit of back and forth passing between Point and Steven Stamkos ended up wtih Stamkos firing a shot that zipped past Murray 12:55 in the period. Towards the end of the period, the Lightning handed the Penguins a power play when Cedric Paquette interfered with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. The Penguins’ power play would be short-lived as Penguins forward Patrick Hornqvist was called for tripping Alex Killorn, causing 4-on-4 action to continue into the second period.
Injury bug strikes again
At the start of the second period neither team generated anything on the 4-on-4 as the game continued like it did in the first period. A few minutes in, McDonagh left the ice after blocking a shot from Evgeni Malkin. McDonagh did not return to the game following that play. Malkin put the Penguins on the board when a centering pass bounced off him and past Andrei Vasilevskiy 9:25 into the period to make the score 2-1.
Lightning respond right away
However, the Lightning quickly answered back as Anthony Cirelli blasted a snap shot past Murray to give Tampa a 3-1 lead off a 2-on-1 rush. Cirelli created another scoring chance, only to be tripped up by Murray before taking the shot. The Lightning went on the power play, yet they failed to take advantage of the opportunity. The remainder of the period remained scoreless with neither team taking any further penalties.
Penguins strike back
The Penguins dominated the opening minutes of the third period, eventually finding the back of the net. Defenseman John Marino buried a wrist shot off a pass from Malkin to make it a 3-2 game 3:20 in the period. For the majority of the period the Lightning played with a lack of discipline, thus giving the Penguins plenty of opportunities on the power play. The Lightning’s penalty kill and Vasilevskiy got tested for the remainder of the game.
Penalty kills galore
Despite the penalties, the Lightning were able to kill off all four penalties that occurred throughout the period. Crosby came very close to tying up the game, but the puck somehow stayed out of the net, while Vasilveskiy made a desperate pad save to prevent Hornqvist from scoring on an open net. Kucherov put the game away with an empty net goal at the 19:27 mark of the period, sealing the 4-2 win for the Bolts. With the victory, Vasilveskiy set a new team record for the longest point streak by a goalie. He is 15-0-2 in his last 17 starts. Nikolai Khabibulin held the previous record, who went 12-0-4 (four ties) from February 15th – April 2nd 2003.
Be sure to check out our YouTube page for postgame locker room reaction from tonight’s game
Three Stars Of The Game
1st Star Andrei Vasilevskiy – Saved 29 of 31 shots faced and set the longest point streak by a goalie in team history.
2nd Star Anthony Cirelli – Scored the eventual game-winner in the second period.
3rd Star Victor Hedman – Assisted on three of the four Lightning goals.
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