One day, the Tampa Bay Lightning will win a game in Pittsburgh again.
Monday was not that day.
The Tampa Bay Lightning couldn't crack Marc-Andre Fleury in an impressive first period, then watched the game slowly slip away after Ben Bishop was lost between the first and second periods to an apparent lower-body injury.
Pittsburgh, icing a skeleton lineup missing several regulars due to various injuries and superstar Sidney Crosby due to the mumps, weathered the early storm from Tampa Bay, who came out with their best first period in some time. The Lightning were relentless on the attack and stingy at their own blue line. Ben Bishop only faced 5 shots in the first period, and was beat only on a shorthanded breakaway chance from Brandon Sutter after an ill-advised pinch from Victor Hedman at the other end.
Tampa answered on that same man advantage with a goal from Jonathan Drouin, to tie the game heading into the second intermission.
That's when Nabokov entered the game for an apparently injured (and visibly frustrated) Ben Bishop. Bryan Rust collected a turnover in Tampa's end to put the Pens up for good, 2-1, and former Tampa Bay Lightning winger Steve Downie added a gimme goal on the power play to extend the lead to 3-1. Brian Dumolin's point shot deflected off Victor Hedman to snuff out any hope for a Tampa comeback in the third and give Pittsburgh a comfortable three-goal lead.
Nikita Kucherov added a late tally with 3:04 remaining to bring the score to 4-2 on a slick move in tight on Fleury after a turnover, but the result was all but decided at that point. Jon Cooper got aggressive, pulling Nabokov with 2:43 remaining, in an effort to try and tie the game but the rally was over before it began as Pittsburgh protected the front of their net well and held on for the 4-2 win.
- There was no immediate update on Ben Bishop's status following the game. All we know -- for now -- is lower body. Andrei Vasilevskiy is still your best bet to be called up to fill in, as Tampa plays tomorrow in Philadelphia vs. the Flyers and again on Friday against the New Jersey Devils. It's tough to imagine Nabokov playing in all of those contests after getting a full two periods of work tonight in Pittsburgh.
- Nabokov's final save percentage after taking over: 857. That will lower his season number with Tampa, which was .897 coming into tonight. That's just not good enough. He was a very good goalie for a long time in the NHL, but at 39 years old the skills have eroded just enough. Even a learning-on-the-job Kristers Gudelvskis or Andrei Vasilevskiy likely gives the Lightning their best chance to win games and keep pace in a competitive Eastern Conference if Bishop is going to miss any length of time.
- It's hard to fault the Lightning for failing to convert on a strong first period; they broke through to Fleury with ease and generated a handful of very good scoring chances. Fleury was outstanding, ultimately stopping 28/30 (.933).
- Two Pittsburgh Penguins skaters scored their first ever NHL goals, both on Nabokov: Bryan Rust and Brian Dumolin.
- Former Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steve Downie had a prototypical Steve Downie game. He finished the night with a goal and an assist to go along with 6 hits, a few of them of the more questionable variety. Lightning fans have known for some time he's got the mitts to hang around with elite centers, and with all the injuries in Pittsburgh's lineup he got the opportunity to do just that against the team that flipped him for the goaltender who might start for the Bolts tomorrow in Philly.
- Jonathan Drouin was the beneficiary of a game where the Lightning faced a 3-goal deficit late: Jon Cooper moved him up with Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan in an effort to drum up offense. That trio looked balanced, focused, and efficient in their ability to work the puck into the offensive third and keep it there. Of course, score effects were also in play, as Tampa pushed to try and get back in the game while Pittsburgh went into a shell.