The Pittsburgh Penguins third period comeback received a little bit of fuel with a five-on-three but were not able to get the tying goal. The sun-soaked Penguins were not as competitive against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are the only team in the NHL which has more wins (20) than the Penguins (19) since Dec. 4. The comeback fizzled and Tampa Bay beat the Penguins 4-2 at Amelia Arena on Thursday night.
Midway through the first period, Tampa Bay flexed their speed as they raced through the Penguins fourth line into the Penguins zone. Tampa Bay defenseman Mikhail Sergachev’s (8) shot from the point deflected off Penguins grinder Sam Lafferty. It also may have deflected off another Penguins defender in front and the bouncing puck which changed direction at least once skipped through Penguins goalie Matt Murray.
A few minutes later, the Penguins rush got greedy and instead of a Penguins scoring chance, the puck wound up in the Penguins net. Tampa Bay quickly transitioned on a Penguins turnover just inside the offensive zone and Steve Stamkos (25) finished the two-on-one with Brayden Point over a sprawled Murray.
“We were on our heels a little bit. They play a fast game and we gave them some time and space,” Sidney Crosby said. “They took advantage of it. I think we understand how they play and how we need to play and it just didn’t happen.”
The first period was dubious for one reason. The period featured more faceoffs (35) than in any other period in the NHL this season.
Things also began to get rough at the end of the first period after Sidney Crosby was cross-checked without a penalty and the teams had a few discussions around the Tampa Bay net.
The Pittsburgh Penguins first tally deflected into the Tampa Bay net off Evgeni Malkin’s knee, not his stick. Malkin (17) deflected Patric Hornqvist’s floating pass past Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
However, Tampa Bay resoundingly scored just 32 seconds later. The Penguins were again greedy as Dominik Simon pinched towards the net despite being the forward responsible for covering a pinching defenseman. Tampa Bay transitioned with a jailbreak three-on-one and Anthony Cirelli (14) ripped a wrister short-side past Murray.
Cirelli almost scored a few minutes later when he slipped behind the Pittsburgh Penguins defense and cut across the front of the Penguins net, but Murray lunged forward to trip Cirelli and strip the puck. The Penguins killed the subsequent power play.
Early in the third period, Patric Hornqvist and Erik Killorn were sent to timeout to think about their bad behavior (roughing), the Penguins dominated the four-on-four minutes. After a couple of scoring chances, Penguins defenseman John Marino was uncovered feet from the Tampa Bay net. Marino (5) roofed the shot over Vasilevskiy’s shoulder.
The Penguins couldn’t get any closer.
“(The game) wasn’t great, but right there at the end, I hit the post,” Penguins winger Bryan Rust said. “If it’s two inches left, or one inch left its a different game I think.”
Marino was felled by a deflected shot late in the third period. The play drew an immediate whistle as the deflected slap shot hit Marino on the side of the head.
Murray was very good in just the second time he’s made consecutive starts since Nov. 17-19. He stopped 25 of 28 shots. Vasilevskiy was also good as he rebuffed 29 of 31 Penguins shots.
The Penguins power play was 0-for-5 and is 0-for-11 in the last two games.
Reigning Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov (25) scored the empty netter.