Zucker’s OT Goal Lifts Penguins Past Lightning, 5-4
Tampa Bay is deep and skilled and fast and experienced, and would be a nightmare matchup for almost any team in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Except, it seems, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They defeated the Lightning, 5-4, in overtime at Amalie Arena Thursday night to complete a sweep of the three-game season series against Tampa Bay, which has gone to the Stanley Cup final in each of the past three years.
The victory was the Penguins’ fourth in a row and lifted them past the New York Islanders and into the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff field.
Jason Zucker scored the game-winner at 2:13 of the extra period on a slap shot from the right side of the slot. It was his second goal of the night.
Marcus Pettersson and Rickard Rakell received the assists on that goal, the last of 18 the Penguins scored against Tampa Bay in 2022-23.
Forward Mikael Granlund, acquired from Nashville Wednesday, played left wing on the No. 3 line, with Jeff Carter and Danton Heinen, and led all Penguins forwards with three minutes, 50 seconds of penalty-killing work.
Tampa Bay got a strong start and recorded the first four shots of the game, a figure that didn’t include Nikita Kucherov hitting the crossbar from the inner edge of the left circle just 75 seconds after the opening faceoff.
The Penguins’ first shot was a dangerous one, though, and Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made an excellent stop on Jeff Petry, who charged to the top of the crease and deflected a pass from Sidney Crosby.
The Lightning took a 1-0 lead at 5:39, courtesy of a series of improbable — and, for Kris Letang, unfortunate — bounces.
Tanner Jeannot, acquired from Nashville Sunday, took a shot that bounced off Penguins forward Drew O’Connor, then caromed off Letang’s face before hitting Tampa Bay’s Ross Colton and ending up in the net behind Tristan Jarry.
Letang, who appeared to be struck on the hand by a shot earlier in the shift, bled heavily and immediately went to the locker room to have his injury treated. He did not return until the middle of the second period.
The Penguins weren’t rattled by the early deficit, though, and finished the period with a 13-8 edge in shots.
They got both of the power plays that were awarded during those 20 minutes and, while they failed to capitalize on either, they generated good pressure on both, particularly the second.
Not long after that man-advantage ended, Bryan Rust chased down a loose puck and broke in alone on Vasilevskiy, but was unable to beat him with a backhander.
The Penguins’ strong play carried through the intermission, and they briefly held a 2-1 lead after Petry scored twice in 25 seconds.
He tied the game at 6:06 with his fourth of the season, beating Vasilevskiy low on the far side from just above the left dot.
The large contingent of Penguins fans in Amalie Arena still was celebrating that goal when Petry stuck a shot under the crossbar from below the right dot at 6:31.
Crosby got the lone assist on his first goal, while Carter and Heinen received them on Petry’s second.
Tampa Bay went on the power play when Pettersson was penalized for interfering with Corey Perry at 9:10, and needed just 29 seconds with the extra man to pull even.
Brayden Point got the goal, swatting in a loose puck from between the right circle and Jarry’s crease.
Granlund, paired with Rust, made his Penguins penalty-killing debut on that penalty, and was on the ice when Point scored.,
Tampa Bay’s penalty-kill survived a too-many-men call at 12:43, but just 23 seconds after the Lightning returned to full strength, Zucker chased down a long lead pass from Pettersson and drove to the net before throwing a shot between Vasilevskiy’s legs at 15:06 for his 18th.
Letang and Petry — the Penguins’ top two right-handed defensemen — were assessed delay-of-game penalties four seconds apart late in the period (at 18:34 and 18:38, respectively), but the Penguins managed to get to the second intermission unscathed.
Mike Sullivan deployed Granlund and Josh Archibald as his first shorthanded tandem during that 5-on-3 for the Lightning.
The Penguins actually managed to kill the Letang penalty — thanks, in part, to a spectacular glove save by Jarry on Kucherov 17 seconds into the third — but Steven Stamkos made it 3-3 just one second before Petry’s was to expire, beating Jarry from just above the left dot.
O’Connor restored the Penguins’ lead on a spectacular individual effort, as he fended off Tampa Bay defenseman Darren Raddysh while bursting down the right side before cutting to the net and tossing a shot past Vasilevskiy’s glove at 6:59, but Victor Hedman tied the game again when he used Pettersson as a screen and scored from inside the left circle at 15:50.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are scheduled to practice at noon Friday in Coral Springs, Fla. before facing the Panthers Saturday at 6:08 p.m. at FLA Live Arena.