There’s no such thing as a good time for the Pittsburgh Penguins — or any other club, for that matter — to take on Tampa Bay.
Not as long as the Lightning, who won the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021 and reached the Cup final again this spring, have a roster featuring the likes of Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman. Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos. And, oh yeah, Andrei Vasilevskiy.
But since avoiding Tampa Bay entirely isn’t an option, the best-case scenario might be to face the Lightning when they are playing for the third time in five days — all on the road — and for the second night in a row. And relying on their backup goaltender.
Which was how things set up for the Penguins Saturday night.
And they made sure not to waste the opportunity by turning in a strong overall performance that yielded an impressive victory.
“Looking at the schedule, you could see that they played last night,” Brian Dumoulin said.
The Penguins defeated the Lightning, 6-2, putting the game out of reach with a pair of goals early in the third period, when the early-season grind seemed to be catching up with Tampa Bay.
That was the same score as in their season-opening victory against Arizona, which figures to again be among the NHL’s bottom-feeders in 2022-23, Thursday.
The Penguins, who allowed two goals in five shorthanded situations against the Coyotes, were burned again on Tampa Bay’s first try with the extra man.
Steven Stamkos staked the Lightning to a 1-0 lead at 4:10 of the opening period when he pounded a slap shot over the glove of Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry from the top of the left circle.
The goal came just 23 seconds after Jeff Petry was assessed a minor for tripping Kucherov and was Stamkos’ fourth in three games this season.
It also was the only man-advantage goal Tampa Bay got in four tries.
“I thought we did a better job (killing penalties) tonight,” Mike Sullivan said. “We still gave up a goal, but just from a process standpoint, I thought the guys worked really hard at it. As the game went on, I thought we got better at it. A lot of times, when you can have a little bit of success, it breeds confidence.”
That was the case for the Penguins’ offense, too, as it was unable to get a puck past Brian Elliott, the Lightning’s No. 2 goalie, until Sidney Crosby beat him at 17:00, but ended up scoring a half-dozen times.
Crosby, who had a two-on-one break with Jake Guentzel, skated down the left side then, after getting a cross-ice feed from Guentzel, cut toward the net before pulling the puck onto his backhand and shoveling it into the net.
Guentzel and Dumoulin got assists on the goal, Crosby’s second of the season and 11th in 20 career regular-season games against Elliott.
Danton Heinen, who had two assists against Arizona, put the Penguins in front to stay during a power play at 4:11 of the second, beating Elliott from the bottom of the right circle 15 seconds before a tripping minor against Stamkos was to expire.
The Penguins killed a hooking minor Evgeni Malkin received at 7:35 — not usually a noteworthy event, but opponents had been 3-for-6 on the power play in the previous four periods — and got a man-advantage of their own when the Lightning were caught with too many men at 10:23.
The No. 1 power-play unit spent the entire two minutes in the Tampa Bay end, but was unable to get a puck behind Elliott.
The Penguins survived a too-many-men infraction of their own called at 15:03, thanks in large part to Jarry. He lost his stick after being bowled over in the crease, but still managed to deny Point from close range a few seconds later.
Guentzel put the Pittsburgh Penguins up, 3-1, at 2:28 of the third by deflecting a Kris Letang shot behind Elliott for goal No. 2 in 2022-23. Crosby, who won a faceoff to trigger the scoring sequence, earned the second assist.
Just 82 seconds later, Jeff Carter pulled in a cross-ice feed from Kasperi Kapanen and beat Elliott from the inner edge of the right circle to put the Penguins up by three.
Bryan Rust piled on with a power-play goal at 13:31, as he set up at the front lip of the crease and deflected in a Crosby shot for — you guessed it — his second of the season.
Tampa Bay countered quickly with a goal by Point at 14:03, but after Elliott was replaced by an extra attacker, Rickard Rakell scored into the empty net at 15:55 for his first — and the ninth by one of the Penguins’ top-six forwards.