The Tampa Bay Lightning played in the second road game in as many nights tonight. The opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins were also playing a back to back. The Penguins beat the depleted St. Louis Blues in overtime yesterday while the Lightning shutout the Red Wings in Detroit. Both teams coming off victories playing in a back to back. Two teams thinking about the postseason seeding. They may be tired but they both want the two points that come with a win. The Penguins may be a little more desperate for those points but the Lightning also want them. This is exactly the type of game that can propel the victor. There remains about 20 or so games left in the regular season with the postseason looming.
Without a doubt the Penguins were ready for this game from the drop of the puck. .Perhaps it was because they were the home team. In any case, the first period was basically a tale of two halves. In the first 10 minutes of the period, it was all Pittsburgh, all of the time. A mere three minutes into the game, Pittsburgh tallied the first goal. Failing to get the puck out of their zone, the Lightning were chasing the puck. They were chasing because the puck seemed to be taped to the Penguins sticks. They sure didn’t seem they were playing in a back to back.
Marcus Petterson shot from the point and the puck was tipped in the net by Drew O’Connor. Lightning goalie Brian Elliott has no chance for the save. They were dominating the puck possession and naturally the shots on goal. At one point, it was 8 to 3 in their favor. During this time, the Lightning players looked sluggish to say the least. Would they be able to recover? For the Lightning it was evident they played less than 24 hours ago, Passes were just missing. Puck battles were lost and the ice was clearly tilted to the Penguins benefit.
Then, the second half of the period came about. The legs of the Lightning players seemed to return. The passes were crisp and exiting their zone seemed as easy as tic-tac-toe. Their perseverance paid off. At the 16:06 mark, Anthony Cirelli tipped in a howitzer of a shot from Zach Bogosian past Casey DeSmith to tie the game at one.
Anthony Cirelli ties it for the Lightning 👀 pic.twitter.com/5QiE0XHw3J
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 26, 2023
Two minutes later, Nikita Kucherov was flying down center ice, received the puck from Brayden Point and skated towards DeSmith. Kucherov split the defense, took a shot that hit DeSmith’s pad. Staying in the play, Kucherov took the rebound and backhanded it for his 700th career point. All of a sudden, it was a 2 -1 Lightning lead.
The 700th point of Nikita Kucherov’s career is a beaut #TBLvsPIT
Kuch dangles and scores on his own rebound, as called by @DaveMishkin
🎧: @1025TheBone or Lightning Radio 24/7 on the Lightning app pic.twitter.com/VHhWZuNmde
— Lightning Radio (@BoltsRadio) February 26, 2023
Coming into the second period, the Lightning had to like where things stood. Up by a goal with two periods to play. If they continue their play of the second half of the initial period, they would come out good. If only. When the horn sounded at the end of the middle frame, it was a mess. Pittsburgh scored six unanswered goals. SIX!. NHL teams can go half a season or more without scoring six goals in a game. The Penguins scored six freaking goals in one period.
It was ugly from the Lightning perspective. From Pittsburgh’s point of view it was surgical. The reality is the first three goals were basically unforced errors on the part of the Lightning. Evgnei Malkin was about to come out of the penalty box and the five Lightning skaters forgot. That brain fart allowed Malkin to go in on a breakaway. Just like that – the game is tied at two. The next goal was another mental error. This time it was Elliot. Lightning were on the penalty kill and after a puck dump, Elliott tried to clear the puck himself. Unfortunately, he passed it right to Richard Rakell of the Penguins who kept the puck in the Lightning zone. In the blink of an eye, Sidney Crosby was fed the puck on an east-west pass and beat Elliott for the goal.
A whole 52 seconds later, Pittsburgh scored again. In the ensuing three minutes, Pittsburgh scored four more goals. There were more Lightning errors like unable to get the puck out of their zone. Starting the night, Pittsburgh was a point of the last Wild Card spot. Not anymore. Tonight they are up 7 – 2 after two periods and those two crucial points look like they belong to the Penguins.
Overcoming a five goal deficit is unheard of in the NHL. So, make no mistake, the Lightning weren’t skating onto the ice in the final period thinking victory. They know that a week from Thursday, these very same Penguins will be in Tampa to play the Lightning. Pittsburgh definitely doesn’t want to antagonize the Tampa players. The Penguins didn’t turtle in the final period. If the shot was there, they were taking them but they were defensive minded. To the Lightning credit, they didn’t get chippy but were aggressive in trying to close the scoring gap.
On the power play, the Lightning did score a goal. Point in his customary bumper position in front of the net put the puck past DeSmith to make it 7 – 3. The rest of the game was uneventful in that nobody scored. For the Lightning, they will forget this game until next Thursday. For the Penguins, this is the kind of game a team fighting for its playoff life builds a push on.
The Lightning come home to the friendly confines of Amalie Arena on Tuesday night. They will face the Florida Panthers at 7:00 pm.