The Penguins enjoyed one of their finest performances of the season to date, skating into Tampa and putting an absolute clinic on against the Atlantic Division leading team that hoisted the Stanley Cup the last two seasons.
As forestold in the game preview on Pensburgh, early on is the best time to jump on the Tampa Bay Lightning lately. The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to do that by scoring two goals in the first 6:27 of the first period.
Danton Heinen got the party started just 3:27 in. Great play by Evgeni Malkin to steal the puck away, skate it through the neutral zone and in. Kasperi Kapanen got the puck on net and Heinen simply went to the front of the net, found the rebound and punched it in to give the Pens an early lead.
Shortly after, Erik Cernak went to the penalty box for tripping and the Pens’ hot power play took advantage. Some snazzy puck movement by the top guns who got the puck to Sidney Crosby and he did the rest to shoot it in. 2-0 game just like that.
It was a great opening frame for the visitors, who outshot TB 16-5. Those 16 shots would mark the most on home ice Tampa has given up this season. The previous high was 14 allowed…also to the Penguins on opening night.
Both teams exchanged goals in the second period, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare got the Lightning on the board after some bad luck when Kris Letang’s clearing attempt struck a skate and stayed in the zone to make it a 2-1 game.
Pittsburgh continued to play well and got it back, Evan Rodrigues made a great pass up the ice for Brock McGinn. McGinn buried the breakaway attempt to push the score to 3-1.
After more physical play in the third, Tampa turned the puck over and Heinen advanced the puck for Malkin. On a clean breakaway, Malkin snapped a shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy to extend the lead to 4-1 with 14:46 left in the game.
With seven minutes left and down big time and out-shot by approximately a million, the Lightning goes to a full send mode and pull Vasilevskiy. Why not? They got some controlled time in the zone but couldn’t score, and Jake Guentzel hunted down a cleared puck and tapped it home to make it 5-1 and erase any doubt of the result.
- Very frisky game, it’s easy to tell that the season is getting serious. Moments after Jeff Carter and Alex Killorn got tangled up and exchanged some hostilities, Kris Letang and Brayden Point took it a step higher and dropped the gloves and had a little fight. Don’t see that every day.
- Late in the second the game heated up again, Corey Perry slashed the stick out of Mark Friedman’s hands and a scrum ensued. The Pens got the power play and Tampa coach Jon Cooper was very displeased. Whatever he said to the refs was apparently over the line, as Cooper was ejected and the Lightning took another penalty for it which…seems counter-intuitive, but thanks coach.
- Then in the third, the teams kept pushing and facewashing after whistles. Dominik Simon didn’t back down when confronted and took Anthony Cirelli off with him on matching 10 minute misconduct.
- After so many slow starts in the past few weeks and months, it was great to see the Pens jump all over Tampa early. The effort was all around, the Lightning had five SOG in the first period, Pittsburgh limited to them to that low number by blocking an equal five shots of their own.
- They kept building on it too. Shots after Malkin’s goal were 36-13 Pens. Shots ended up at 40-21 by the end of the night. The score could have been even more lopsided if not for a solid game by Vasilevskiy. He gave up some goals but many were “no chancers” like the two clean breakaways and a power play goal. The Pens just out-classed Tampa in every way on this night.
- Three point night for Malkin, who was everywhere around the puck in this one. Looks like Heinen is starting to figure out how to play with Malkin, who does have his own unique and distinct style.
- What a difference a week makes for Marcus Pettersson. Last week at this time he was coming off a disastrous game against New Jersey, perhaps the worst of his career where he was almost single-handedly responsible for three goals against and got benched for over a period. (You know how hard it is to get straight up benched during a game as a defenseman?) Now, a complete 180. He played a steady, smooth game, often matched up against Nikita Kucherov. Pettersson played 19:34 —which doesn’t seem like a ton — but it’s the first game since November 26th that he cracked the 19 minute mark in time played. It was a fine performance to boot.
Tough to tell if the Pens deserve all the credit, or if this was just a mis-fire stinker of a night by Tampa…But either way, Pittsburgh skated into the 2x defending champs’ barn, with them on a five game winning streak and thoroughly dominate them in every regard from the pace, skill, chances and scoring departments. Big time performance for the Pens, who will have to be brimming with confidence as they scoot up north quickly and catch the division leading Hurricanes tomorrow night.