The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2. The Bolts played well and deserved the two points. The game represented a strong bounceback after a poor showing against the Avalanche on Saturday night.
Tristan Jarry was excellent for Pittsburgh and nearly stole the win. Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as good and flashed some last second heroics to hold the lead. The Lightning got solid performances from players up and down the lineup and one of its stars, Victor Hedman, stepped up with the big game winning goal late in the third period.
The first period started with a mistake by the Lightning. Ryan McDonagh turned the puck over in the defensive zone allowing what looked like it would be a dangerous chance but the Penguins wasted it. After that initial moment of chaos, the game calmed. The two teams played at a relatively slow pace for most of the first half of the period without much threatening offense.
That changed when the Lightning took a 1-0 lead just before the ten minute mark. Nikita Kucherov did most of the work to create the goal. Playing on a new line tonight with Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn, he carried the puck into the zone and created a great look for Killorn who couldn’t finish. But that line kept the puck in the zone and regrouped. Kucherov this time took a shot from the center point and Killorn deflected it past Tristan Jarry to give the Bolts an early lead.
The Lightning took control of the game for a stretch after the goal. Steven Stamkos got a good chance off a loose puck and ripped a shot from the high slot. About a minute later, Jarry turned over the puck trying to pass it out of the zone. Ondrej Palat intercepted the pass and tried to set up Brayden Point but they couldn’t connect.
With five minutes left in the period, the game started to get chippy. First, Erik Gudbranson took a roughing penalty for throwing a punch at Pat Maroon before he could get his gloves off. The Penguins got the best chance of the power play as Sam Lafferty got loose but couldn’t beat Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Lightning looked just ok with the advantage. They got a couple of decent looks for Stamkos from his office. The best chance came after the penalty expired but before Gudbranson rejoined the play as McDonagh nearly hit Point at the back door for a tap in goal.
The Penguins got one of their few good chances at 5v5 shortly after the penalty as Dominik Kahun got loose on the left side of the net and had half the goal open on a rebound but couldn’t finish.
With two minutes left in the period, things really started to deteriorate. Jared McCann threw a bad hit on Cedric Paquette. He skated in with his elbows high and nearly brained the Lightning center in his first game back in the lineup. That started a scrum leading to a roughing double minor for Cirelli and another roughing penalty for Gudbranson.
The Pens looked their best of the period on the power play including one great chance for Zach Aston-Reese in the slot. But again, Vasy made a big save.
At the end of the period, the Lightning led in shots and expected goals as well as 1-0 on the scoreboard.
The second period was similar to the first but the big difference was that by the end of it, the Penguins claimed the lead. The period started with the Lightning killing off the final 30 seconds of the penalty to Cirelli that carried over from the first period.
After the game returned to 5v5, the Bolts nearly extended the lead twice. First, Yanni Gourde collected a rebound and had a great chance but couldn’t beat Jarry. A minute later, Tyler Johnson got free on a partial breakaway but again, the Pens goaltender came up with the save.
After those chances, the game started to turn a bit. The Pens tied the game five minutes into the period on a great individual effort by Brandon Tanev. He skated in on the rush, fired a shot off the net, gathered the rebound, skated around the net to the right circle, skated back toward the goalmouth, and finally roofed the puck past Vasilevskiy.
The Pens continued to pressure after the goal. Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel combined to nearly give Pittsburgh the lead. At the halfway point, the Lightning started to retake control of the game. They got a power play with about 8:30 left in the period. The first half of the advantage was relatively harmless but the Bolts started to threaten in the second minute.
Stamkos got a great chance out of a scramble but fired the puck over the net from his spot in the right circle. The second unit created a few chances by getting pucks to the net and looking for rebounds or tips but couldn’t quite finish.
After the penalty, the Lightning continued to push and were getting the better of play. They looked to have retaken the lead with a little over a minute left as Stamkos forced a turnover in the offensive zone and passed to Palat who threw the puck toward the net. Gourde gathered the rebound and slid it neatly through Jarry’s five hole but it went all the way across the crease and kicked off the post harmlessly.
The Pens collected the puck and immediately started a rush the other direction. Crosby chipped the puck into the zone, Dominik Simon chased it down and fed it back across to Crosby who made another cross ice pass to Guentzel for the goal. Vasilevskiy didn’t have a chance following the quick passes back and forth across the slot.
At the end of the period, the Lightning still had a big lead in shots and expected goals but trailed 2-1.
The third period was a reverse of the second. The Pens pushed play and looked the more threatening team but the Lightning scored two goals to take the lead and ultimately, secure the victory.
Pittsburgh got the best of the early part of the period pushing play and keeping the puck in the offensive zone. They didn’t create any standout chances but they consistently tilted the ice in their favor.
All of that good work went to waste as the Lightning scored with 13 minutes left to tie the game. The fourth line combined to create the goal. Cedric Paquette got in on the forecheck and Luke Witkowski took a hit to make a pass from behind the net. He found McDonagh open in the slot who shot it toward the net and Paquette tipped it past Jarry.
After the goal, the Pens took over the game even more. The Crosby line created a scrum around the net with 11 minutes left that forced Vasilevskiy to make multiple saves. The pressure didn’t break for a solid three minutes when the Bolts finally sustained some offensive zone time. They only managed to generate point shots but did at least recover the puck a few times and give their goaltender a break.
With 5:30 left in the period, the Lightning got their best scoring chance as Yanni Gourde received a pass and split the defense down the middle attacking Jarry. But Marcus Pettersson made a great diving play to disrupt the shot and sent the puck flying wide of the net.
Starting with just under five minutes left in the period, the Pens imploded. They took two consecutive penalties that resulted in the Lightning spending almost the entirety of the rest of the period on the power play. The first penalty went to Aston-Reese for throwing his stick. The second went to Guentzel for hooking.
The Lightning didn’t look particularly good at any point on either power play. The first ended without a good chance and the second appeared to be heading that direction. But out of nothing, Stamkos slid a pass back to Hedman at the point who bombed a one timer past Jarry to give the Lightning the lead. No power play coach would ever show video of the time leading up to that goal. But sometimes just having Hedman set up and rip it is enough.
The game got even wilder in the final 30 seconds as the Pens assaulted the Lightning net with multiple chances including forcing a ridiculous glove save by Vasy at the buzzer. The referees took an exorbitant nearly five minutes to review the play but ultimately determined they couldn’t overturn it and the Lightning secured both points.
At the end of the game, the Pens had closed the gap in shots and expected goals but the Lightning won 3-2.
Through two periods, the Bolts played great tonight. Probably one of their best games of the year. They gave ground in the third period but took advantage of the Penguins mistakes and did enough to win. By the end of the night, it wouldn’t be fair to call this a dominant performance. But they played plenty well enough to win and should be happy to walk away with a deserved two points.
The team will have a couple days off before returning to the ice against the Nashville Predators on Saturday night. For a team that has been up and down all season, this was an up night. We’ll see if they can put together a second one in a row come Saturday.