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2016 Eastern Conference Final Game 4: Lightning build big lead, survive rally to even series

The Tampa Bay Lightning jumped out to a 4-0 lead through two periods only to see the Penguins post three in the third, hanging on for dear life in the closing seconds for a 4-3 win to even the series at two games apiece.

The Lightning's J.T. Brown works against Pittsburgh's Justin Schultz in Tampa Bay's 4-3 win in Tampa Friday night.
The Lightning's J.T. Brown works against Pittsburgh's Justin Schultz in Tampa Bay's 4-3 win in Tampa Friday night.
Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 Friday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final, tying the best of seven series at two games apiece.

"We were not the more determined team for the first half of the game. They are a good team, and we knew this was going to be a hard game." - Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan

"Shame on anybody who left early." - Lightning head coach Jon Cooper

Mathematically speaking, this was not a "must win" game. But things like math don't matter when the outcome either evens a series or puts you on the brink of elimination. Through two periods, the Lightning seemed to have shaken off a sloppy effort in Game 3 and turned the series into a best-of-three before a near-calamitous third period brought them dangerously close to facing the prospect of having to dig out of a three-games-to-one hole.

Just 27 seconds after the puck dropped, the Lightning were on the board with Ryan Callahan scoring on the first shot of the game. He was assisted on the play by Victor Hedman and J.T. Brown.

At 14:28, they doubled the lead when Andrej Sustr scored on assists from Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn.

"I was trying to jump up the play there and beat (Pittsburgh's) forwards up the ice. (Kucherov) made a great play through the defenseman and found me on the back door, and it was a little bit of an easy job to put it in the open net." -Sustr

The period ended with the Lightning up 2-0 and having done a much better job of working the puck in deep than seen in any of the preceding games of this series.

The lead was 3-0 when Jonathan Drouin scored a power play goal on the only shot taken on the back end of a double minor at 14:38 of the second. Ondrej Palat and Hedman chipped in with assists.

It looked to be a rout when Tyler Johnson scored at 17:48, a shot that deflected in off of Sidney Crosby's stick. Assists were credited to Killorn and Kucherov.

The Lightning were up 4-0 after two periods.

Then things got interesting.

First the Penguins replaced starting goaltender Matthew Murray with Marc-Andre Fleury, seeing his first action in almost two months.

At 1:18, Phil Kessel scuttled Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy's shutout bid, getting assists from Nick Bonino and Brian Dumoulin.

Evgeni Malkin sliced the lead in half when he scored at 11:13. He got help from Ian Cole.

Just 13 seconds after that, Killorn took a bad Tripping penalty. Pittsburgh converted on the ensuing power play, getting a goal from Chris Kunitz at 13:08, with assistance from Justin Schultz and Conor Sheary.

The nearly-seven remaining minutes was spent fending off the Pittsburgh forecheck which has been lethal for them throughout the postseason, but the Lightning survived and have guaranteed this series will go at least six games.

The series returns to Pittsburgh for Game 5, which will be played Sunday night.

Game notes:

  • The Lightning are 10-10 all-time in Game 4's and 3-7 at home. They're 3-0 this postseason, with the two previous games played on the road.
  • Tampa Bay has trailed 2-1 in eight playoff series all-time, coming back to win four of them, including against Pittsburgh in 2011.
  • Callahan's goal was the second quickest opening goal in Lightning postseason history. Adam Hall scored 13 seconds into Game 2 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Final against the Boston Bruins.
  • The Lightning are 30-5-2 overall when Callahan scores a goal.
  • The Lightning notched 18 shots in the first period, the most they've registered in a period this postseason so far.
  • Through two periods, the Lightning had taken 30 shots. The most they'd had in any game in this series was 28.
  • This was the second consecutive game that the Lightning gave up three goals in the third period.
  • Johnson's goal in the second was the 20th postseason tally of his career, tying him with 86 for 3rd all-time in Lightning history.
  • Johnson took a puck to the mouth during pre-game warm-ups and played with a cage-style facemask.
  • Fleury hadn't appeared in a game for Pittsburgh since March 31.
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning honored Linda and the late Tom McEwen as the 49th Lightning Community Heroes of the 2015-16 season during the first period of tonight's game. The McEwen's, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to the American Red Cross, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Shriners Hospital and Joshua's House. The McEwen's become the 228th Lightning Community Heroes since Jeff and Penny Vinik introduced the program in 2011-12 with a $10 million, five-season commitment to the Tampa Bay community. Through this evening's game, in total, the Lightning Foundation has granted $11.55 million to more than 300 different non-profits in the Greater Tampa Bay area.