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Game 18: Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 before a crowd of 18,509 at the St. Pete Times Forum Thursday night.

The first meeting between the two teams since squaring off in the playoffs last year was another chapter in the tale of Jekyll and Hyde being told by the Lightning so far this season; sloppy and seemingly lethargic on the road, aggressive and bafflingly hard-to-beat at home.

As much as fans have puzzled over why that is, it may not be a huge mystery after all…

“When you’re home, you’re in front of your fans, you come out flying, you’re more aggressive. That’s what we’re up against on the road. The other teams are doing that and it takes us too much time to to get to their emotional level. Usually, we’re much better than that. More focused defensively, our power play is much sharper. Right now we’re not seeing it on the road. Until we figure that out, we have to be on a mission to win games at home.” – Lightning head coach Guy Boucher

As if to illustrate that point, Vincent Lecavalier got things started with a rare (for the Lightning) first period goal, scoring unassisted at 8:38, right after the Bolts successfully killed a tripping penalty against Steven Stamkos. The period ended with an equally rare Lightning lead, 1-0.

Brett Connolly doubled the lead at 4:08 in the second with help from Dominic Moore and Marc-Andre Bergeron on a deflected power play goal that dribbled past Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury at 4:08. The Penguins mounted sustained offensive pressure throughout the period, outshooting the Lightning 14 to 6. However, goaltender Dwayne Roloson came up huge over and over again, including an extended stretch that saw Pittsburgh generate 11 shots in a row.

With the Lightning holding a 2-0 lead heading into the third, the Penguins came out even more aggressive than they had been in the previous period and drew a penalty almost immediately when Deryk Engelland was called for boarding at 1:06. The Lightning cashed in on the ensuing power play as Steve Downie scored, recording his 100th career point in the process, with assists from Eric Brewer and Stamkos at 2:04, extending the lead to 3-0.

Lecavalier seemed to have sewed things up when he scored his second goal of the night with a steal and a breakaway into an empty net at 15:49, but one minute later, the Penguins spoiled the shutout effort with a four-on-four goal scored by Tyler Kennedy with help from Paul Martin and Jordan Staal, cutting the lead to 4-1.

The Penguins could draw no closer and Lecavalier almost had another breakaway into an empty net but play was stopped when Stamkos attempted to retaliate against Matt Niskanen who had crosschecked him repeatedly while he was on his back in front of the Lightning net behind the play.

“If I was Stamkos, I would have done the same thing. I thought it was ridiculous. There’s one of the best players (in the game) on the ice and you got two guys that are crushing him, one after the other. So he’s got six or seven crosschecks, a few to the head. And so, if I was him, I would have done the same thing.” – Boucher

With the win, the Lightning improve to 9-7-2 and won a game in which they didn’t have to rally from a deficit since beating Winnipeg 1-0 on October 29th.

“That’s part of our total focus, our attitude that we try to put forward. It doesn’t matter what happens first, it’s what happens at the end. Most games we come back. Tonight, we didn’t have to come back and the challenge is to keep your game even though you’re leading. That’s another type of challenge and we were up for it tonight. So I was pretty happy about that. ” – Boucher

The Lightning look to enjoy some more home cookin’ when they are in action again on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils in a 7:00 p.m. game at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Game notes:

  • Prior to Lecavalier’s goal, the Lightning hadn’t scored a first period goal at home since the October 20th victory over the Islanders.
  • After being outshot 7-5, the Lightning have now been outshot in the first period 12 times this season.
  • Connolly’s power play goal was the first one given up this season by Fleury.
  • Pittsburgh has only allowed five power play goals this season, two of them coming in this game.
  • Think special teams aren’t important? After tonight’s game, opponents are 3 for 31 (less than 10%) on the power play against the Lightning in Tampa Bay’s nine wins. In their nine losses, opponents are 9 for 41 (22%).
  • Think home ice isn’t important? The Lightning are 7 for 25 (25%) on the power play at home. Meanwhile, they’re 4 for 41 (10%) on the road.
  • Tonight’s Lightning Community Hero was Alfred Astl. The head chef at Trinity Cafe, a non-denominational restaurant for the homeless, hungry and wqorking poor of Tampa Bay, Astl has prepared over 700,000 meals throughout his nine years of service to aid and assist individuals in need. Astl carefully prepares each meal, using only fresh ingredients and serving each guest on china plates as a demonstration of his compassion and respect for those he serves.

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