Actually, Niittymaki played well the entire game. It really looks like he's back to form from earlier in the season. Without Niittymaki, the third period might've been very ugly.
There was some ugliness in the first when Brooks Orpik landed a hard but legal hit on Steven Stamkos. It knocked Stamkos down and hurled him into the boards with some velocity. It wasn't anywhere close enough to the boards to be considered boarding, thankfully.
But Steve Downie took exception to Stamkos being hit that way, and decided to hit Sidney Crosby. I've seen cleaner hits, but I don't think that Downie was trying to injure Crosby. He just wanted to send a message. Had the game turned into a route, then that likely would've come back up again.
As it was, there was a little messiness with Victor Hedman and Ruslan Fedotenko in the third. There was some all out fighting going on, but the officials decided to call it "roughing" despite punches being thrown. They also managed to give Hedman the high sticking penalty when he got Fedotenko's stick in the face. Pretty tricky of Hedman to have had that happen, huh?
Yes, the officiating was questionable once again.
However, despite the unequal penalty calls, you can't blame this loss entirely on the on-ice officials. The Lightning had had control of this game thru two periods. Yes, they had four penalties called on them in a row, but they've overcome penalty trouble before to win games.
The fact of the matter is, they let control of this game slip away to the Pens in the third when they had opportunities to win it. No shots for the first seven minutes of the third is unacceptable - even if they were killing off penalties. They still had 4-on-4 time to work with during that stretch, and they did nothing with it. Usually, the third period is their best period of the game, but not this time.
Vincent Lecavalier had flashes of brilliance, but he wasn't consistent. Martin St. Louis had a bit of an off night as well. And Stamkos was struggling to keep up with things at times. The defense did look pretty good again this game, however.
Perhaps they'll do better with the Phoenix Coyotes, who will be in town on Tuesday, 15 March. Game time is 7:30 pm Eastern. Let's hope they can pull themselves together by then.
Penguins vs Lightning coverage [SB Nation]
PensBurgh [SB Nation Pittsburgh Penguins site]