The good news is that the Tampa Bay Lightning are still in first place in the Southeast Division.
The bad news is that unlike 24 hours ago, they now have some company at the top.
Eric Brewer, Steven Stamkos and Cory Conacher all had goals for Tampa Bay, which after falling behind by three goals early on, brought the game to within a single goal twice before ultimately falling 5-3 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center on Sunday night.
Mathieu Garon, coming into the game in relief and making his second appearance in as many days, made 10 saves for the Lightning, which lost for just the first time on the road in their past three tries.
Stamkos also added two assists for a total of three points in the defeat.
Entering the contest, Tampa Bay held a two-point lead over the division-rival Carolina Hurricanes for first place in the Southeast Division standings.
It didn’t last however, as Carolina’s win against the New York Islanders earlier in the day combined with the Lightning’s loss allowed the Hurricanes to pull into a first-place tie with the Bolts, as both clubs currently sport 19 points apiece.
The Penguins, meanwhile, won for the fifth time in six games.
Sidney Crosby scored twice and had three points, while Paul Martin also had a goal and an assist in the first period that put Pittsburgh out to an early 3-0 lead through the first 20 minutes.
Beau Bennett had the other goal for the Penguins, the first of his career in the National Hockey League, and Matt Cooke had two points, including an empty-net tally that capped the scoring with just 52 seconds to play in regulation.
Marc-Andre Fleury turned aside 27 of 30 shots for the Penguins, which with the victory pulled into a first-place tie atop the Eastern Conference standings with the Montreal Canadiens.
Pittsburgh didn’t take long to establish the scoring, as Crosby took advantage of a turnover by Benoit Pouliot and finished off an odd-man rush for a 1-0 lead just 1:16 into the game.
The Penguins captain then doubled the advantage six minutes later after being credited with a goal that was accidentally kicked into the Lightning’s own net by Anders Lindback.
Lindback allowed three goals on 10 shots, including one to Martin that closed out the first period scoring and chased him from net in favor of Garon.
Garon, who started in goal and earned a 5-2 win at Carolina just the night before on Saturday, seemed to provide a calming influence, as the Bolts struck twice in a span of less than two minutes to get back to within one.
Brewer’s goal from near the right circle was disrupted in front, but somehow found the back of the net to make it 3-1 at 1:37 of the middle period.
Tampa Bay then took advantage of Pittsburgh’s penalty troubles, as Stamkos’ vintage one-timer from the left side cut the deficit to one while on a 5-on-3 power play at 3:14.
“We can do this,” Bolts captain Vincent Lecavalier said at the first intermission. “We just needed to get that first goal and go from there.”
The Penguins received a 5-on-3 opportunity of their own just past the halfway point of the middle frame, and took full advantage as Bennett’s first career NHL goal beat Garon at 12:20 to give the home team a 4-2 lead.
Conacher brought the Bolts to within one a second time to open the third period scoring, as an initial shot took a sharp carom off a skate and pinballed to the rookie’s stick before he sent a shot past Fleury to cut the Penguins’ lead to 4-3.
That’s where things stood for nearly the remainder of the game, until Cooke’s goal into an empty net within the game’s final minute sealed the win for Pittsburgh.
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