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Three-goal first period leads Tampa Bay Lightning past Penguins, 7-1

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Steven Stamkos breaks Tampa Bay Lightning franchise record for most power play goals at 113.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

So far this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been lucky enough to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins on the second half of a back-to-back twice, and both times, they drew the Penguins’ backup goalie, Antti Niemi. Tonight, the Bolts took advantage of a tired team and rusty goalie by sending seven past Niemi to win it, 7-1.

Did you know that right before the season started, the Penguins goalie coach, Mike Bales, was let go after winning two Stanley Cups with the team? It was apparently because Bales was considered Marc-Andre Fleury’s coach, and the new goalie coach, Mike Buckley, had worked with Matt Murray since his AHL days. We have yet to see Murray in net, and part of me suspects Sullivan is saving it for the playoffs, to get Tampa overconfident if we meet again.

Also right before the game began, news broke that the Red Wings had traded Riley Sheahan and a 2018 fifth to Pittsburgh for Scott Wilson and a 2018 third, to make room for Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou signing. I took my pen and struck Wilson from the lineup, but we did not see Sheahan.

The Bolts lines to start the night returned to 11/7, a sneaky move (reported earlier by Erik Erlendsson) to cycle players through the Tyler Johnson-Alex Killorn second line.

Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosNikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn — Tyler Johnson

Ondrej PalatBrayden PointYanni Gourde

Chris KunitzGabriel DumontRyan Callahan

And the 7 D:

Victor HedmanJake Dotchin

Mikhail SergachevAnton Stralman

Braydon CoburnDan Girardi

Slater Koekkoek

First Period

At 1:36 of the first period, Kucherov decided to score a power play goal after Sidney Crosby cross-checked Gourde.

Immediately after Kucherov’s goal, which was a sick glove-side snipe from the top of the left circle, Crosby was assessed a ten-minute misconduct. We can only imagine what he might’ve said to the ref.

4:30-ish into the first, Palat was sent to the bin for boarding Chad Ruhwedel. The beautiful Tampa Bay penalty kill showed up, including a great chance by Callahan and Gourde in front of Niemi’s net that got anticipated and stopped. Still, getting shots on the penalty kill is fantastic, and the amount of jump to the PK energized the crowd.

Bolts carried the energy from that first goal and excellent penalty kill well into the period, and shots mounted 10-4 by the midpoint.

More excellent possession against a tired Pittsburgh team led to a Kris Letang slash against Kucherov at 13:23 — Letang actually smacked Kucherov’s stick to the ice. The ensuing power play was yet another Todd Richards’ special. After setting up a very tight system in front of Niemi’s net, the play went from Killorn to Kucherov to Namestnikov to Stamkos, who was left alone in his office. Thanks, Letang.

With this power play goal, Stamkos broke his tie with Vincent Lecavalier to move to first place in the franchise at 113.

Fast forward to the last few seconds of the first, where Gourde poke-checked the puck away from the Penguins at the edge of the Lightning defensive zone, sent it to Point, and set up a 5-on-5 scoring chance in front of Niemi’s net. Point passed to Coburn, who sent it to Gourde skating across the front of the net. At 19:59, the puck went in on Niemi’s left, over the glove.

The period ended with shots 13 - 7, Bolts, and the score 3-0.

Second Period

I just sat down, and 30 seconds in, Brayden Point scored.

Point skated in on the net after picking up a pass from Palat. Then he shot, got blocked by Niemi, picked up his own rebound, and sent it up over Niemi’s stick. Shortly after that, Greg McKegg drew against Stamkos’s line, and quickly got penalized for hooking. Penalties are the last resort of tired teams. This power play went by without a goal, however.

Trivia: So far this season, we’ve scored 36 (this number kept increasing as the game continued) goals overall — 11 on the power play and 1 shorthanded, the rest at 5 on 5.

Um so while I wrote the above sentence, Stralman got his first goal of the season at 5:38 into the period, a nice slapshot from the top of the right circle assisted by Sergachev.

And...before I could finish writing that up, there was 5-hole goal from Kucherov at 7:12 into the period, assisted by Stamkos and Killorn. This was Kucherov’s 10th goal of the season, tying him with Alex Ovechkin for leading the league.

At six goals, the Bolts let up on the gas a little, and Penguins shots on goal increased from 10 to 17 pretty quickly. It’s never a good idea to let the Penguins have offensive zone time, they capitalize on it.

This is not actually Ilya Bryzgalov, by the way:

At 12:44, Coburn was dinged for hooking. The Penguins didn’t convert on their first minute and a half of power play, and at 13:27 during their power play, Phil Kessel got sent to the box for slashing. During the 4 on 4, Callahan drove the penalty kill into the Bolts’ offensive zone and took a shot, but it was saved by Niemi. The rest of the Bolts’ power play at least kept the puck in the offensive zone.

“This period feels like it’s lasting forever,” I said to Matt.

Niemi got his act together and made a few good saves in the last half of the period, so that was good for him, I guess, including a save on a Gourde breakaway. Speaking of Gourde, he has been playing with such fire that Coach Jon Cooper deployed him most of any forward not named Stamkos.

Third Period

So far, the people who had not yet been credited with shots on goal were: Johnson, Namestnikov, Koekkoek, and Sergachev. It’s worth noting that Sergachev had an assist, though. I had enough time to write this because neither team looked like they wanted to play hockey any more.

This was the point at which Penguins fans began to cheer obnoxiously at every one of Niemi’s saves. Y’all got used to Fleury backed up by Murray, Penguins fans. Welcome back to reality.

And then things got chippy, as they do when teams are badly shellacked. At 4:40 into the period, Patrik Hornqvist tried to emphatically tap a puck 5-hole on Vasy, and a few Bolts defended his honor. Nothing really came of it after referees gave Hornqvist their best mom looks.

Penguins’ shots mounted to 24, though.

Chippiness continued at the 9:30-ish mark of the period, after Hornqvist cross-checked Point in front of the benches. This resulted in a slightly boring power play from the Dumont, Kunitz, Callahan unit.

I take that back, at the 10:32 mark when the first power play unit emerged, Namestnikov found Stamkos at his office ... and Stamkos sent it to Sergachev, who was skating right in front of Niemi’s apparently weak glove side. Sergachev scoar.

At 11:30 into the period, Callahan was sent to the bin for slashing. Will Vasy’s shutout stand? The PK held this time, but...

At the 13-ish minute mark, Gourde closed his hand around the puck and got a penalty. Vasy’s shut-out was spoiled by a Jake Guentzel’s power play goal. It’s good to know that even during terrible Penguins games, their power play is still lethal, and Guentzel is still their bright hope for the future. In fact, I’d be worried about both the Penguins’ power play and Guentzel when we see them next in Pittsburgh.

Conclusion

The three stars of the night were Stamkos, with four points, matching his career highs, Vasilevskiy, who saved 28 of 29 shots on goal, and Kucherov, with two goals.

So, that was a night. There is one good question remaining:

Should Sergachev go back to juniors after this, his 9th game played in the NHL?

No, Sergachev should stay, and tonight he was deployed at 15:02 minutes at even strength, which was more ice time than Koekkoek, Dotchin, and Coburn. Vote of confidence from Cooper, at least.