The Tampa Bay Lightning hung on to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3, in wild Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, tying the series at 2 games apiece heading into tonight’s Game 5 in Pittsburgh. The right to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals will now be decided over a 3 game series. The Penguins would turn to their starting goaltender when their playoffs began: Marc-Andre Fleury, to hopefully deliver a boost in net after the Lightning were able to chase the rookie Matt Murray out of net in-game 4. Fleury looked strong in relief of Murray at the end of the game 4, likely giving the Penguins coaching staff the confidence to give him the start in-game 5 despite allowing 9 goals in his 2 previous two starts against Tampa. The Lightning would not make any significant line changes despite the continuing positive news on Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos’s health improving, allowing them to practice at full speed. Tampa would hope to rely on the momentum of the strong offensive play from their top scoring lines in-game 4 and potentially jump on a goalie making his first start in over three weeks. . Both clubs popular nicknamed scoring lines “The Triplets” for Tampa, and the newly minted “HBK” line for Pittsburgh have provided much of the offensive action through four games this series. However, game 5 would once again come down to which club could get a dominant performance from their goalie and potentially rob a goal or two to get their club within a single victory of playing for the cup.
The 1st period would start with both teams skating end to end looking to get an early goal to set the tone for game 5. The Lightning would get the first legitimate scoring chances as both Ryan Callahan and Matt Carle would get the puck all alone in front of Pittsburgh goalie Marc Andre-Fleury’s crease, but could not put the puck into the net. The lightning would continue to pressure the Penguins defensive zone but were unable to get many clean shots off against Fleury. Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevksiy would get his first test as he would stop Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin on a close range one-time shot to keep the game tied midway through the 1st period. Later in the 1st period Malkin and Tampa defenseman Matt Carle were both sent off for two minutes each after exchange unsporstman like conduct penalties. During the subsequent 4 on 4 play, Tampa’s Tyler Johnson would be sent off for hooking setting up Pittsburgh with the 1st power play of the game just after the half way mark of the 1st period. Despite having 4 on 3 and a later a 5 on 4 man advantage during their power play, Pittsburgh was unable to get any significant scoring opportunities keeping the game at a scoreless tie. Late in the 1st period Pittsburgh winger Phil Kessel tried to keep his red hot playoffs going as he broke in all alone against Vasilevskiy but his shot would get turned aside keeping the tied. It looked like the 1st period would end in a scoreless tie until Penguin’s winger Bryan Rust took a Tampa turnover and drove the puck into Vasilevskiy allowing Pittsburgh defenseman Brian Dumolin to shoot the rebound into the net with only 0.7 seconds left on the clock, giving Pittsburgh the game’s first lead at 1-0. The Penguins would take their 1-0 lead in the locker room along with having a 8 to 4 shots on goal advantage through one period.
The 2nd period would begin with Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman being checked into the boards during his first shift knocking loose a piece of the glass forcing the refs to briefly delay the game until they were able to fix it. The Lightning likely wish that play would not have resumed, as they would get caught during a lazy shift change allowing the Pittsburgh Penguins Olli Maata to find Carl Hagelin all alone in front of the Tampa net and Patric Hornqvist would put in an easy open net goal off the rebound giving them a 2-0 lead early in the 2nd period. The Lightning were still trying to get their right personnel on the ice as Hornqvist was shooting the puck into their open net. The Lightning would continue to struggle to put any pressure on a goalie making his first start in over a month putting only 5 shots on goal through the first 27 minutes of the game. The Lightning would catch a break when Kris Letang would get sent to the penalty box for slashing giving Tampa their 1st power play of the game midway through the 2nd period. Tyler Johnson nearly made it a one goal game on the power play but he could not get any lift on his one timer shot allowing Fleury to stop it and kill the power play maintaining the 2-0 lead. Nikita Kucherov would get sent off for holding setting up the Penguins for their 2nd power play of the game and putting the Lightning on the verge of letting the game get away from them. The one constant the Lightning could count on is their stellar penalty kill, which would not fail them killing the Kucherov penalty and setting the stage for Alex Killorn to beat Fleury with a high shot short side goal cutting the deficit to 2-1 just past the halfway mark of the 2nd period. The momentum would continue to build for the Lightning as only a minute later Vladislav Namestnikov would show tremendous hustle keeping a play alive and finding Nikita Kucherov blistering slap shot goal tying the game at 2-2 with a little over five minutes to play in the 2nd period. The CONSOL Energy arena would suddenly become as quiet as a library as the crowd attempted to comprehend the sudden change fortunes. Fortunately for Pittsburgh fans the Lightning would continue their struggles to close out the end of periods as Evgeni Makin would assit Chris Kunitz on a sloppy goal to make the game 3-2 as the Tampa defense was all out of position on the goal with only 50 seconds remaining in the 2nd period. The Penguins would take their 3-2 lead into the break.
The 3rd period began with the Lightning pressuring the Pittsburgh zone attempting to get the early equalizer. The early pressure would lead to Pittsburgh’s Olli Maatta high sticking Tampa defenseman Slater Koekkoek leading to a Tampa 4 minute power play due to the drawing of blood by the high stick. The subsequent Tampa power play would see several scoring chances go by without the Lightning being able to capitalize. The power play would come to an abrupt end a full two minutes early after Tyler Johnson would interfere with Kris Letang while trying to get to the bench during a shift change. The teams would trade several offensive zone chances during the four on four play but neither team could score on two goalies who were beginning to take over the game. Later in the 3rd period Nikita Kucherov would get hit in the face with a blatant high stick from Kris Letang forcing him to head to the Tampa locker room but would not draw a penalty despite the referee being only a few feet from where the high stick occurred. The Lightning would continue to struggle with sustaining any offensive pressure for most of the middle of the 3rd period allowing the Penguins to maintain puck possession and run the clock out with relative ease. Ryan Callahan nearly tied the game late in the 3rd period as his shot would ricochet off of Marc-Andre Fleury’s shoulder, hit the right post and skid perfectly parallel to the goal line barely staying out of the net. The referees would review the play but it would be upheld as the puck never crossed the goal line keeping the Penguins with a 3-2 lead late in the 3rd period. The Penguins would look like they were closing in on a game 5 victory until Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov broke into the Pittsburgh zone after a Tyler Johnson pass and would leave the entire Pittsburgh defense in his wake as he beat Fleury with a beautiful wrap around goal to tie the game at 3-3 with only 3:16 remaining in the 3rd period. The Lightning would prevent another late period meltdown that would plague them in the previous two periods led by some phenomenal saves by Andrei Vasilevskiy as the game would end tied 3-3 in regulation, forcing the teams to decide game 5 in overtime. The Penguins would maintain their shots on goal advantage 33-24 through 3 periods.
Overtime would be over before it ever really began as the Penguins would get an early rush forcing Vasilevskiy to freeze the puck for a faceoff in the Tampa Bay zone. The Lightning would win the face off and start a rush up the ice gaining the Pittsburgh zone allowing Nikita Kucherov to find Jason Garrison who would fire a shot towards the Pittsburgh net deflecting off Tyler Johnson’s back for the game winning goal giving Tampa the 4-3 overtime win.
The Lightning now lead the Penguins 3-2 for the series.
The Lightning will face the Pittsburgh Penguins for Game 6 of the series on Tuesday May 24th at 8:00pm.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
- Andrei Vasilevskiy – The young goalie is no longer an inexperienced playoff goaltender; he’s winning big games like a seasoned veteran. Vasilevskiy has put his team on his back and made critical save after critical save when games have been in the balance, and tonight was no different. He stopped 31 of 34 shots faced, but most importantly he stopped several huge shots in critical moments when the game could have gotten out of hand allowing his team to fight their way back into the game. Many people thought the Lightning were toast when Ben Bishop went down with an injury, Andrei Vasilevksiy is making sure those people realize how wrong they were.
- Nikita Kucherov- Continues his playoff tear as he scored his 10th and 11th playoff goals (now leading all goal scorers in the playoffs) but most importantly setting up the game winning goal in overtime with a beautiful assist to Garrison and Johnson. Kucherov is showing why he now can be considered a number one all around offensive player and scorer on a team and no longer a second line scoring specialist. He is now +17 for the playoffs proving he is the real deal.
- Tyler Johnson’s Back- Tyler Johnson would have an assist and a mixed game offensively but his ‘back’ would step up when his teammates needed him most by redirecting Jason Garrison’s shot for the game winner in overtime. The overtime goal was the 1st of Tyler Johnson “Back’s” career.
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