The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins came into the only matinee contest in the NHL, looking to put some space between each other in the standings. They were both tied at 66 points, with the Penguins having a game in hand prior to the game. Both teams have been on different paths since their last meeting in which the Lightning won, the Penguins have gone 4-1-1 in their last six games while Tampa would trend the opposite direction going 2-4 in their last sx. Tampa would look to end their awful regular season drought at CONSOL Energy Center, having never won on the road in Pittsburgh, going 0-9-1 since the new arena opening in 2009. While Pittsburgh would continue to hope to improve their playoff positioning while awaiting the return of their second star Evgeni Malkin from a lower body injury that has sidelined him for several weeks now. The goal was simple for both teams; win the game, bolster your playoff chances while delivering a blow to a rivals’. How they got to that goal, would be the hard part.
The 1st period started with the Tampa Bay Lightning attempting to test the backup Pittsburgh Penguin goalie Jeff Zatkoff with a barrage of early shots. Zatkoff was thrust into the starting line-up unexpectedly, due to normal starter Marc-Andre Fleury being unable to go, due to an undisclosed illness. The Lightning looked invigorated in the first after their near collapse against the Winnipeg Jets that prompted a rare player’s only meeting after a win. The Bolts were utilizing pressure from all four of their lines early in the 1st period. The pressure would finally payoff as Anton Stralman would open the scoring for Tampa after wild sequence in which the Pittsburgh Penguins hit the crossbar, enabling a Lightning rush which ended with Stralman firing a big shot hitting the far post but still going in, giving the Bolts the early 1-0 lead. The Lightning were not done with scoring or posts as only two shifts after the first score, Alex Killorn would see a beautiful wrist shot go off the post but watch his captain & line mate Steven Stamkos out hustle the Penguin defenseman to tip in the second goal of the game and his 300th goal of his career; giving the Lightning a 2-0 lead midway through the 1st period. Frustration would set in for Pittsburgh as their captain Sidney Crosby would take a careless roughing penalty on Tampa’s Jonathan Marchessault who had put a legal hit on him in the corner, putting the Lightning on their 1st power play of the game. The subsequent Lightning power play would see Steven Stamkos nearly make it a three goal advantage as he shot on a wide open net only to see Pittsburgh defenseman Ben Lovejoy block the likely goal to keep the game at 2-0. After killing the first power play of the game, the Penguins began to settle in and start to exert some of their own offensive pressure, as the last three minutes of the period saw Pittsburgh put multiple close range shots on Ben Bishop but were unable to get it past him as the 1st period expired. The Lightning would take a 2-0 lead into the break despite being out shot by Pittsburgh 17-9.
The 2nd period would start with both clubs down a man as Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Tampa’s Tyler Johnson would serve penalties for roughing which occurred after the end of the first period. Lightning forward JT Brown nearly made it a three goal game with a rush and big shot while the teams played four on four hockey, but Zatkoff would stop Brown’s shot to keep the deficit at two goals. The Lightning would get their third goal of the game from a unlikely source; maligned defenseman Matt Carle would shoot a big shot from the blue line which would sneak past Zatkoff who could not track the shot after being screened; giving Carle his first goal of the season, and the Lightning a commanding 3-0 lead early in the 2nd period. When Pittsburgh took another rough penalty a few shifts after the third goal setting up the Lightning on their second power play of the game; it looked like the game could turn into a rout if Tampa could get one more goal. However, the beleaguered Bolts road power play unit would continue to struggle and give life to the Penguins as Lightning defender Victor Hedman would mistakenly pinch in on the power play, allowing a turnover to result in a two on none breakaway for Penguin forward Tom Kuhnhackl, Kuhnhackl would put a beautiful shorthanded backhand goal past Ben Bishop, making it a game again at 3-1. The Lightning began to settle back down once the Penguins returned to full strength leading to their fourth goal of the game as Tampa center Jonathan Marchessault would feed a beautiful pass to Ondrej Palat who would send it to a wide open Tyler Johnson putting it past Zatkoff giving the Bolts a 4-1 lead midway through the 2nd. A series of penalties by both clubs would see extended four on four hockey late in the 2nd, the Penguins would take advantage of the open ice as Penguins winger Bryan Rust would fire a shot off Ben Bishop’s pads, and center Scott Wilson would beat Tampa defender Andrej Sustr to the rebound, putting it in the net and bringing the Pittsburgh deficit back to two goals at 4-2. The ice would continue to tilt in the Penguins favor as the Lightning would take back to back penalties in the final two minutes of the 2nd period giving the dangerous Pittsburgh power play a five on three man advantage to end the period. Fortunately for the Tampa Bay Lightning, right-winger Ryan Callahan would play his best shift of the game on the penalty kill. Callahan would stop two different Penguin offensive rushes on the same shift, clearing the defensive zone both times. Callahan’s play allowed the the Lightning to effectively kill off the five on three advantage, and most of the remaining five on four advantage as the horn would sound allowing the Lightning to take a 4-2 lead into the 2nd intermission despite being outshot 25-15.
The 3rd period began with the Lightning facing the task of killing the rest of the Andrej Sustr high sticking penalty from the 2nd period. The Lightning penalty kill unit successfully stopped Pittsburgh from cutting into the Tampa lead, keeping the game at 4-2 early in the 3rd period. Ben Bishop likely tired of seeing multiple rebounds in the 2nd period began to utilize his glove to stop play on most of Pittsburgh’s early shots, in attempt to disrupt the Penguins offensive rhythm. The Bishop strategy seemed to be working as Pittsburgh while increase their shot total advantage, could not get Bishop to move off his line as he continued to glove single Penguin shots. The Lightning offense went into a shell content on trying to run the clock out, and not risk any aggression turning into a potential Pittsburgh counter-attack. As the 3rd period wore on the Penguins began to get frustrated with their inability to get a third goal past Bishop, and Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang would allow his frustration to get the better of him as he would take double minor penalties just after the midway point of the period. The penalties were the result from Letang feeling he was illegally cross-checked by Lightning center Cedric Paquette, caught Letang to lose the puck in the Tampa offensive zone. Letang than stole Paquette’s stick to prevent a breakaway, and played the puck with the illegally stolen stick resulting in the penalty, following an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to be tacked on due Letang berating the ref on his way to the penalty box. The Lightning power play unit which had struggled significantly on the road this year and having already allowed a short-handed goal on the day, would have four minutes in the remaining eight of the third period, to close out the Pittsburgh Penguins. Unfortunately, for the Lightning their power play struggles would continue, as they would fail to score again, and actually made it worse when Nikita Kucherov would get called for a high-stick penalty cutting the power play short by 1:18 with around five and half minutes to play in the game. The good news for the Lightning is that Ben Bishop was determined to not let another lead slip away; his strong play in net paired with a strong forecheck by Tampa’s forwards enabled the Lightning to run out the clock despite Pittsburgh pulling Zatkoff to get the extra attacker for the final two minutes of the game. The 3rd period horn sounded giving the Lightning a big 4-2 win, their first at CONSOL energy center in the regular season, and completing the sweep of their conference rival Pittsburgh Penguins. The Lightning were outshot almost two to one on the game, as the Penguins held a 39-20 shot advantage but Tampa’s four goals were too much for the Penguins to overcome.
The Lightning would improve to 32-22-4 on the year, and the Penguins would fall to 29-20-8, and dropping to the 8th seed in the Eastern conference.
The Lightning will next be in action on tomorrow February 21st, as they travel to face the resurgent Carolina Hurricanes. The game can be seen locally on SUN sports with a 7:00 pm puck drop.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
- Matt Carle – The embattled defenseman has suffered a litany of criticism from fans, and even his coach with several healthy scratches on the year. However, on a day when the Lightning’s top two defenseman had off days, Carle stepped up in a huge way providing the offensive spark and defensive prowess the organization hoped to see out of him when they acquired him a few years back. Carle would contribute an assist, and score his first goal of the season which would prove to be the game winner, while also playing very solid defense over the course of 18:19 of ice time.
- Steven Stamkos– The captain and superstar would use his quick hands and effort to get his 300th career goal, and give the Lightning a two goal lead early in the first. Stamkos nearly had a second goal if it wasn’t for a great play by a Pittsburgh defender who took an injury to stop Stamkos’s shot.
- Jonathan Marchessault– One could make the argument that Ben Bishop deserves a star for stopping 37 shots and preventing a Penguins comeback, but without Jonathan Marchessault’s two assists and strong play there would have been no lead to protect. Marchessault showing Jon Cooper he no longer wants to be a situational player put in a complete performance today helping power the Lightning to a big road win. He got under Sidney Crosby and other Penguin players skin with tough checks in the corner, and even drew a penalty on Crosby after he got the superstar to lose his cool and take a bad roughing penalty. If Marchessault plays like he did these last two games, it will be impossible for Cooper to keep him off the ice.
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