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2016 Eastern Conference Final Game 6: Too little too late for Lightning, Penguins force Game 7

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There were three periods played at Amalie Arena Tuesday night but the Tampa Bay Lightning lost the game in the first two. The Pittsburgh Penguins simply played with a sense of purpose and determination that the Lightning didn't match until nearly midway through the third period and down 3-0. The Penguins came away with the 5-2 win and the series will be decided in Game 7 on Thursday in Pittsburgh.

Kris Letang scores in the second period of Pittsburgh's 5-2 win in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final in Tampa Tuesday night.
Kris Letang scores in the second period of Pittsburgh's 5-2 win in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final in Tampa Tuesday night.
Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final Tuesday night in Tampa.

"All of their players played better than all of our players for 40 minutes. That's it." - Lightning head coach Jon Cooper

60 minutes were played but for whatever reason, the Lightning, with an opportunity to close out the series at home and return to the Stanley Cup Final for the second consecutive season, didn't fully engage until the final 15 or so.

It looked like the Lightning were on the board first when Jonathan Drouin pounded the puck into a wide-open net at 5:12, but the play was reviewed for Offsides and overturned.

That was the closest thing the Lightning had to a highlight during the period, aside from a number of excellent saves by Andrei Vasilevskiy that kept the score from being closer than it should have been.

The Lightning lost almost all the battles for loose pucks, many of which turned into dangerous opportunities for the Penguins. With the Drouin goal disallowed, the Lightning didn't register an official shot until 7:49 and were outshot 14-4.

Anton Stralman was whistled for Interference at 17:09 and on the ensuing kill, Victor Hedman inexplicably shot the puck out of play from deep in his own zone. Phil Kessel scored on the resultant 5-on-3 at 18:13.

The period ended with the Penguins up just 1-0 in spite of thoroughly dominating play.

The Lightning came out looking somewhat better to begin the second, but it wasn't nearly enough to even slightly hinder the Penguins.

Kris Letang doubled the lead at 7:40 and Sidney Crosby blew it wide open with yet-another last-minute-of-the-period goal for the Penguins at 19:35. Meanwhile, the Lightning went without a single shot on goal in the last four and a half minutes of the period.

Could the Lightning, who have come close to patenting the word "resilient", find the rally magic again in the third period? Kind of. A little.

Drouin had two opportunities in the opening minute and a half but was unable to convert either chance.

At 5:30, Brian Boyle scored unassisted to spoil Pittsburgh netminder Matthew Murray's shutout bid.

They trimmed the lead to a single goal at 12:43 when Boyle scored again, this time getting assists from Slater Koekkoek and Drouin.

With plenty of time remaining to notch a single goal and just as the home crowd was doing their part to spur the improbable comeback, Pittsburgh's Bryan Rust took advantage of Lightning defenders pinching in, found himself with the puck on a breakaway and scored at 17:52. The official back-breaker came at 19:07 when Nick Bonino scored into an empty net.

Game 7 of the series will be played Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

Game notes:

  • The Lightning are a combined 6-3 versus Pittsburgh this season.
  • The Lightning are now 6-6 all-time in Game 6's, with a 3-4 mark at home. They're 1-3 all-time in ECF Game 6's
  • They're now now 2-1 this postseason in games where they can finish a series.
  • There were three penalties called against Tampa Bay and one against Pittsburgh. The Bolts are 9-0 in games when they have the same or more power play opportunities than its opponent in these playoffs. They're 2-5 in games when they have fewer.
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning honored Hinks and Elaine Shimberg as the 50th Lightning Community Heroes of the 2015-16 season during the first period of tonight's game. The Shimberg's, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to the Straz Center and St. Joseph's Hospital. The Shimberg's become the 229th 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 $11.6 million to more than 300 different non-profits in the Greater Tampa Bay area.