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Recap: Lightning Strikes. Pens lose 5-4.

Pens fight to the bitter end but fall to Lightning on the road. Niemi gives up five goals but keeps Pens in striking distance. Depth scoring shows up to fill in for quiet Crosby and Malkin. Letang hits milestone with first period assist.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports


Small changes for the Penguins from Wednesday night’s contest. Patric Hornqvist and Conor Sheary move to the top line centered by Sidney Crosby. Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel move to the third line.

Antti Niemi get the start on the back end of back-to-back games looking for redemption after a disastrous first outing in Chicago. Niemi has posted strong performances against the Lightning throughout his career.

1st Period

Tampa Bay comes out flying and create a few good chances in close but Niemi is up to the task early on.

Tonight marks the first time the Penguins face old friend Chris Kunitz who moved to the Lightning as a free agent in the summer. Kunitz makes his presence felt early with a hit on Chad Ruhwedel.

Lightning strike first off a deflected shot from the point at 6:07 of the period. Defenseman Slater Koekkoek scores his first career NHL goal on a slap shot that deflected off a Penguins skater and past Niemi for a 1-0 Lightning lead.

Niemi makes an incredible save on a slap shot from Steven Stamkos to keep the deficit at just one goal shortly after Tampa Bay opened the scoring.

Midway through the first, the Lightning lead 1-0 and it is very clear which team played last night. Every chance the Lightning get looks dangerous.

Trailing 1-0 the Pens get the first power play of the game at 11:42 of the first period. Dan Girardi heads to the box for tripping Brian Dumoulin in the offensive zone.

Tampa Bay kills off the Girardi minor but the Pens score right as he comes out of the box. Jake Guentzel parks himself in front of the crease and tips in a beautiful pass from Letang to knot the game 1-1 at the 13:46 mark of the period.

Less than a minute after they tie the game, the Penguins are whistled for a penalty and the Lightning get their first shot on the power play. Ryan Reaves is the guilty party and sits for holding.

No harm comes from the Reaves minor as the Pens kill it off and return to even strength tied at 1-1.

Pens get another one past Andrei Vasilevskiy after a scramble in front but it is immediately waved off by the referee. Hornqvist set up in his office but kicked the puck into the net. A short video replay confirms the call on the ice, game remains tied 1-1.

Less than two minutes remaining in the period Kris Letang takes a delay of game penalty sending the Lightning back to the power play. Niemi does all he can to keep the game tied, including a desperation pad save on Nikita Kucherov from the right dot.

Just when it looks like the Pens will weather the storm and head into the intermission tied, Victor Hedman lets a shot go from the point and it crosses the goal line with 0.1 remaining on the clock to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead just before the buzzer.

2nd Period

Second period begins with the Pens trailing 2-1 after the Hedman buzzer beater.

Ryan Callahan gets in behind the Penguins’ defense but Antti Niemi makes another big save to keep it a one goal game. During the rush up ice Carter Rowney is called for a slash and the Lightning head back to the power play.

Less than 15 seconds into the man advantage the Lightning capitalize and extend their lead. Good puck movement from Tampa Bay find Steven Stamkos wide open at the side of the goal and he doesn’t miss, making it 3-1 in favor of the Lightning at 3:49 of the second period.

After the goal the Lightning keep coming and find themselves in a 4-on-2 rush but Niemi slides across to make another stellar save.

Trailing 3-1 the Penguins head to the power play in need of a goal to get back in the game. Braydon Coburn is the latest to be hit by the league’s new slashing crackdown and heads to the box.

Hornqvist gets a beautiful chance right in front but Vasilevskiy robs him blind to keep the two goal lead intact.

After the Hornqvist chance the Pens struggled to get another and the Lightning come away unharmed from the Cobrun minor.

Back to five a side the game begins to open up with chances coming from all angles.

A shot off the post from the Lightning ends up on the stick of Chad Ruhwedel who sends Conor Sheary on a breakaway and Sheary goes over the blocker of Vasilevskiy to cut the Lightning lead to 3-2 at 8:58 of the period.

Just 51 seconds later the two goal lead was restored. Robbed earlier by Niemi, Nikita Kucherov places a blistering wrist shot into the top corner for a 4-2 Lightning lead.

Shortly after going back up by two the Lightning were back on the power play when Carl Hagelin was sent to the penalty box for interference behind the play. Niemi continued his strong showing on the penalty kill and kept the Penguins in the game.

Out of the box came Hagelin and into the box went Gabriel Dumont to send the Penguins back to the power play and this time the Pens cashed in on their chances. Bryan Rust corralled a puck in the slot and zipped one past Vasilevskiy to bring the Penguins back within one to 4-3 late in the second period.

Another Lightning penalty sent the Penguins back to the power play with the opportunity to tie the game. Opening goal scorer Slater Koekkoek took down Hornqvist in open ice and was quickly whistled for the infraction.

His Lightning teammates easily killed off his minor then Koekkoek quickly made up for his error when he came out of the box and found himself in the middle of an odd man break. Some slick passing put the puck on Koekkoek’s stick and he slid the biscuit through Niemi’s five hole for a 5-3 Tampa Bay lead.

A wild and crazy second period came to an end with a combined five goals being scored but the Lightning were able to extend their lead to 5-3 after 40 minutes of play.

3rd Period

Trailing 5-3 entering the final period of play, the Penguins needed to find their game if they hoped to make a comeback.

Less than 90 seconds into the period and Hornqvist gets what feels like his tenth chance of the game but once again is denied by Vasilevskiy on a quick shot from the slot.

Controlling the play early in the third period, the Penguins are able to draw an interference penalty on Tyler Johnson and head to the power play looking to get back in the game.

A bad turnover by Braydon Coburn lands right on the tape of Evgeni Malkin but he sails the shot wide and wastes their best opportunity on the man advantage as the Lightning kill off the Johnson minor.

Midway through the third period and the game begins to settle down as Tampa Bay defends their lead when newcomer Matt Hunwick buries his first goal in black & gold into a wide open net to pull the Pens back within 5-4 with 9:59 remaining in regulation.

Back to a one goal game things begin to open up once more. Play kicks up a notch and the teams trade chances at both ends. Niemi comes up with another big save then Jake Guentzel goes alone on a breakaway and tries to slide it five hole but Vasilevskiy closes to door to preserve the Lightning lead.

Clock continues to tick down and the teams continue trading chances up and down the ice. Sheary nearly ties it but he cannot steer a Phil Kessel pass into the back of the net.

With 1:31 left on the clock the Penguins pull Niemi for an extra attacker in hopes of tying the game in its dying moments.

Up a man thanks to the extra attacker, the Pens possess the puck well in the Lightning zone but are unable to get anything on net and Phil Kessel is called for slashing to nullify the man advantage.

Down a man, the Penguins are only able to get back to even strength by pulling Niemi with less than a minute to go.

The Pens push for a tying goal down to the very last shift but the horn sounds and the Lightning hold on for a 5-4 victory over the defending champions.

Final Thoughts and Observations

  • It was clear from the opening face-off which team played last night and which team was well rested.
  • Don’t let the five goals against overshadow the job Antti Niemi did tonight. Without him the Pens are staring down another Chicago debacle.
  • There might not be a player in the league better at doing his job than Patric Hornqvist is at doing his.
  • A healthy Lightning squad is bad news for the rest of the Eastern Conference.
  • Pens depth was on full display tonight. Crosby and Malkin are quiet but the depth guys keep them in it to the very end.
  • Plenty of issues still need addressed, specifically on the blue line which hung its goaltender out to dry on multiple occasions.
  • With his assist on Guentzel’s first period goal, Kris Letang recorded his 300th career helper.

3 Stars

  1. Slater Koekkoek: Two goals (first two of career) including what turned out to be game winner.
  2. Nikita Kucherov: Goal and an assist. Most noticeable Lightning player on the ice.
  3. Alex Killorn: Four assists. Factored in on 80% of the Lightning goals tonight.