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Game 4 Recap: Comeback falls short, Lightning even series

The Pittsburgh Penguins suffer a comedy of painful errors in the 2nd period with injuries, needless penalties and defensive breakdowns to let Game 4 slip away despite a furious comeback. Tampa evens the series at 2 games a piece.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Eastern Conference Finals Game 4, Pittsburgh Penguins @ Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lineups

Pens roll with the same lineup and lines as Game 3.

Tampa goes back to 11F + 7D, as they've done before, using defenseman Slater Koekkoek again and sitting forward Jonathan Marchessault.

The Highlights

First Period

Just 27 seconds in, Tampa hits the back of the net. Chris Kunitz coughs up a puck behind the net and J.T. Brown wins the puck back to the point for Victor Hedman who puts it on net for Ryan Callahan (beating Trevor Daley up front) which results in a deflection past Matt Murray to make it 1-0.

Later on, Kris Letang with a nice skate-to-stick display but Andrei Vasilevskiy is there to deny the backhand chance and Letang doesn't have the time/angle to lift the puck.

Not long after, Tampa strikes in transition to make it 2-0. Nikita Kucherov finds Andrej Sustr cutting in the backdoor and puts a perfect pass for him to slam home. No Pens on that side of the ice, and Hagelin+Kessel get caught in the offensive zone and Bonino doesn't pick up the cutter.

As if things couldn't get worse, at the end of the first period Murray goes behind the net to play a puck and Brian Dumoulin comes swooping in and makes contact with his goalie shoulder-to-head (and then Murray's leg buckles under him for good measure).

Second Period

Murray would return for the 2nd but the wheels fell off for the Penguins power play, and worse, the defense (more in the thoughts below). Daley gets hurt, then Letang gets hot-headed and takes 4 needless penalty minutes, then Dumoulin continues his uneven play and the Pens have to put Justin Schultz in a bigger role. This is bad, bad and worse.

3-0 Tampa on the Letang penalty with Jonathan Drouin finding the puck and putting it home.

4-0 then Tampa with the Dumoulin/Schultz pairing not playing well and Johnson Johnny on the spot to score the goal.

Throughout the regular season the Pens have been the league's best team in the second period, but this was a complete meltdown.

Third Period

Marc-Andre Fleury sees the ice in a game for the first time since March 31st.

And Kessel jumps on one early, snapping home a nice shot just 1:18 into the period to make it 4-1 and at least get some hint of life in the game.

Kessel was fresh off the bench too

Letang gets punched in the face by Ondrej Palat, no call. Not unreasonable to see why his temper flares at times but restraint is crucial this time of the year. He then puts Kucherov in a head-lock, because I guess why not at this point.

Evgeni Malkin makes a great individual play to make the game 4-2 (and some nice work by Chris Kunitz with a forward-drive to open room) with 8:46 to go.

Pittsburgh gets a power play and their second unit comes through. Conor Sheary gets the puck with space and tosses it on net, Schultz deflects it and the rebound pops to Kunitz, who's there to instantly fire the rolling puck nicely in the net to make it 4-3 with 6:52 left and have the comeback hopes in full effect.

The Pens mount a furious comeback and apply a ton of pressure in the dying minutes of the game, but the clock strikes 0:00 before the tying goal hits the net. Tampa holds on to win tonight.

Some Thoughts

  • The first shift after the first goal to open the game, Carl Hagelin takes an inopportune and needless penalty away from the puck. The Pens kill it thanks to about three 10-bell saves by Murray to keep the game at 1-0 early.
  • Prior to Game 3, Patric Hornqvist had to get 2 stitches after an errant puck bounced off his head Tyler Johnson caught a puck to the lip in pre-game warrmup and had to wear a full-cage and that seemed to effect him early with his vision skating with the puck on a breakaway and also on some faceoffs early which caused him to switch to the fishbowl mid-1st period.
  • Luckily Murray would be well enough to come back out for the second period after being hit by his own teammate. Unluckily the Pens get 2 powerplays in the first half of the 2nd and pretty much piss them both away with perimeter play, passing and not taking looks at the net.
  • As frequent lurker of Pensburgh (and a mighty fine defenseman in his own right) my buddy texted me about the collision: "Man, I love 8, but as a defenseman regardless of situation, you gotta go into the wall hard to avoid your goalie when he comes back to play the puck like that". Obviously Dumo didn't mean to do it, and the game moves fast, but situational awareness is the name of the game. Best of all, we can file this one under "no harm, no foul", but hopefully not see a play like that again.
  • Daley gets taken into the boards in the 2nd period, clean but suffers some kind of bad-looking left leg injury. Pens are down to 5 defensemen, so hopefully none of them (especially the most important one) does anything unnecessary to take themselves off the ice...
  • Right on cue, Kris Letang's temper comes to bite. After feeling frustrated the Pens were getting a penalty call on them, Letang can't live with just touching the puck, has to slam it into a crowd of Lightning players an earns 4 minutes of penalties after the inevitable scrum, leaving the Pens with only 4 defensemen to kill 4 minutes of penalties. Pittsburgh almost holds for 3 of them, but then crack.
  • Putting Fleury in down 4-rock in the 3rd isn't the wrong play, even if none of the goals against were really Murray's fault, so much as all the breakdowns in front of him. Two-pronged effort in trying to jolt the team + let MAF get into a playoff game situation without any real pressure. But now the pandora's box is open to answer the question of which goalie should start next game.
  • Great period by the Pens in the 3rd but it's almost impossible to dig out of a 4 goal hole. Still, my goodness, they almost did though.
  • The ice tonight (requiring a lot of work pre-game) was a joke. It's not an excuse, both teams had to play on it, and late-May hockey in Florida isn't a picnic for the arena crew but the puck might as well have been a bouncy-ball for most of the game.

In all, meh, bad night for the Pens. Big picture they won 1 of 2 games in Tampa. The Eastern Conference finals is now a best of 3 with 2 games in Pittsburgh. And the Pens haven't lost back-to-back games in a long time. The injury to Daley could loom large, but if the Penguins can bottle the way they played in the 3rd period and carry it forward for next game, it will serve them well.

They're getting rewarded when they're playing well, but tonight they got burnt by a good opponent when they messed up. to be expected this late in the season.

Can't wait to see what the twists and turns will be in the next game Sunday night in Pittsburgh.