TAMPA, Fla. — The Pittsburgh Penguins, like most teams, like to stress the importance of playing a 60-minute game.
And they mean it.
It just doesn’t always work out that way.
Consider their 4-2 victory against Tampa Bay at Amalie Arena Thursday night.
Their performance during the first 20 minutes spanned the gamut from pathetic to putrid, and only some quality work by goaltender Tristan Jarry allowed them to reach the first intermission with any hope of getting back into the game, let alone a few shreds of professional dignity.
But they completely altered the course of the game during the second period, then got a game-winner from Jeff Carter — yes, that Jeff Carter — and an empty-netter from Jarry to bump their record back to the sunny side of .500 (11-10-1).
Jarry’s goal was the first by a Penguins goalie.
Tampa Bay ran up an 17-5 advantage in shots during the opening period, and the game wasn’t nearly as competitive as that stat might suggest.
When Tanner Jeannot knocked in a rebound from the edge of the crease at 12:33 — four seconds before a tripping minor to Noel Acciari was to expire — the Lightning had accounted for 17 of the game’s first 19 shots.
The onslaught started early, as Tampa Bay had an 11-1 advantage after the first seven minutes, 39 seconds, although it took the Lightning 15 tries to get a puck past Tristan Jarry.
Steven Stamkos got that goal at 9:06, when he deflected in a Victor Hedman shot.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, who entered the game 0-for-20 on the power play in their previous eight games, got a chance with the extra man when Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak tripped Jake Guentzel at 12:50. The Penguins generated decent pressure and threw two shots, both by Guentzel, at Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the two minutes that followed, but failed to score.
Although the Penguins seemed to regroup during the intermission, Jarry had to withstand several menacing Lightning forays in the early minutes of the second period to keep them within two before Sidney Crosby — who else? — got them back into the game as the middle of the period approached.
Guentzel stole the puck from Tampa Bay winger Nikita Kucherov inside the Penguins’ blue line and got it to Crosby, who rushed down the left side before beating Vasilevskiy from inside the left dot at 8:53 for his 14th of the season.
The goal also was his 11th in 11 road games in 2023-24 and his 564th in the NHL, moving him into a tie with Mats Sundin and Joe Nieuwendyk for 24th place on the all-time list.
Improbable as it seemed after the first 20 minutes, the Penguins pulled even with 35.9 seconds to go in the second, as Drew O’Connor drove to the net and steered in a pass from Evgeni Malkin, who was at the right dot.
Kris Letang got the second assist on the goal, O’Connor’s second of the season.
The Penguins got a go-ahead goal early in the third from a most unlikely source: Jeff Carter, who had not scored since April 6.
He worked a give-and-go with Matt Nieto and threw a shot by Vasilevskiy from inside the left circle at 2:49.
The second assist went to Marcus Pettersson, who followed up with an equally important play at 4:16, when he backhanded a puck out of the air — and out of danger — from the crease as it appeared to be fluttering into the Penguins’ net.
O’Connor was penalized for tripping at 7:37, but the Penguins were able to keep the Lightning power play in check, and Jarry put an exclamation point on the victory by scoring into an empty net at 18:52.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a scheduled day off Friday. They will face Philadelphia Saturday at 7:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena in the opener of a home-and-home series with the Flyers.