The odds were stacked pretty heavily against the Pittsburgh Penguins before they even dropped the puck tonight. With 13 players out due to illness, specifically the mumps, and coming off an extended shootout loss to the Panthers last night in Sunrise, it appeared the patchwork Penguins had little chance against a Lightning squad eager to erase memories from a disappointing (1-3-1) road trip and send a festive holiday crowd home happy before the holiday break. However, it's not like the Penguins were without key contributors like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz, or that the Lightning fared that well when they faced Columbus under similar circumstances earlier this month. So hopefully you'll understand why the Lightning were less than hospitable hosts to their ailing guests, at least early on.
"It sure makes Christmas that much better. That was an early Christmas present from the guys." - Lightning head coach Jon Cooper
Tyler Johnson scored his first goal of the night at 6:54 of the opening period, getting assists from Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.
He stretched the lead to 2-0 just three seconds before the period expired with his second goal. Palat and Victor Hedman helped out this time.
Just 52 seconds into the second, Kucherov scored on a long lead pass from Matthew Carle that allowed him to slip past the defense and put the puck past Pittsburgh starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who had played the whole game the night before. Valtteri Filppula chipped in with the secondary assist.
After that, Fleury was relieved by Jeff Zatkoff, seeing his first action this season.
As is often the case in games like this where one teams builds a big early lead, things got heated. Brendan Morrow and Pittsburgh's Bobby Farnham dropped the gloves as soon as the puck was dropped on the ensuing face-off.
The increased level of hostility didn't seem to have much of an impact on the Lightning immediately, as they continued to dominate play pretty much as they had from the start. Johnson cinched the hat trick at the 2:37 mark, getting assistance from Kucherov and Palat on the play.
"That line (Palat-Johnson-Kucherov) hasn't really been together for a couple of weeks now, but they are finally back healthy. They showed what they can do and it was pretty impressive." - Cooper
The Penguins were able to get their first marker of the night past Andrei Vasilevskiy at 10:15 on a goal by Patric Hornqvist with an assist from Rob Klinkhammer.
The score at the end of two was Tampa Bay 4, Pittsburgh 1.
At 9:55 of the third, a Lightning giveaway at the end of a power play allowed Malkin to feed Kunitz as he exited the penalty box, skated in alone and beat Vasilevskiy.
With the lead cut in half, the Penguins sensed new life, began pressing hard and started to dictate matters. They pulled Zatkoff for the extra skater with just over two minutes remaining in regulation, a move that paid off when Kris Letang scored at 18:29, thanks to helpers from Hornqvist and Malkin.
That would be as close as they would get however, as the Lightning held on for the win
This win stopped a two-game losing streak for the Bolts and was their third win in their last five home games. They'll be in action again on Saturday when they host the Carolina Hurricanes.
- This was the only regular season matchup between the Lightning and Penguins in Tampa this season. The two teams will meet again in Pittsburgh on January 2nd.
- The Lightning have struggled against Pittsburgh recently, coming into tonight's game with a record of 1-9-1 against the Penguins since the beginning of the 2011-12 season. Their last win against Pittsburgh came on November 17, 2011 in Tampa.
- The Lightning haven't won consecutive games since November 29 and December 1st (Ottawa at home and the Rangers in New York respectively), the last two games of an overall four-game winning streak.
- Johnson's three goals came on shots taken within inches from each other, roughly the same spot right between the two face-off circles.
- Johnson has points in each of his last five games (five goals, three assists).
- The Lightning honored Olga Joanow as the 18th Lightning Community Hero of the year during the first period of tonight's game. Joanow, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to Champions for Children. In 2001, Joanow fell victim to a tragic domestic dispute. She was shot twice and left for dead on the side of the road. Fortunately, Joanow survived. After persevering through four surgeries, a year of outpatient rehab, and permanent leg damage, Joanow shares her story to inspire others to take action against abuse and leads advocacy against a particular form of violence, child abuse. She serves as a volunteer Board Member and is the incoming Chairwoman for Champions for Children (formerly the Child Abuse Council), a non-profit organization leading child abuse prevention. In addition to serving on the Board of Champions for Children, Joanow volunteered on the Hillsborough County Civil Service Board from 1997 to 2004. Being a lawyer by trade, during the 1990's, she volunteered on Teen Court, a juvenile diversionary program, and volunteered as a coach for the Bloomingdale High School Mock Trial Team.
- It should go without saying but we'll say it anyway: Happy Holidays of each and every kind to you and yours from us here at Raw Charge!