Vincent Lecavalier is heating up just at the right time for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Tampa Bay, who entered Sunday’s contest against Pittsburgh just four points out in the playoff hunt, got a goal from the Lightning captain midway through the second period – his fifth in six games – but fell to the defending Stanley Cup champs 2-1 in front of a sellout crowd at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The goal marked Lecavalier’s 10th consecutive season with 20 or more goals.
Todd Fedoruk tallied an assist for the second straight game for the Lightning, who moved to 11-4-2 in their last 17 games at home.
“We played hard tonight,” Lightning head coach Rick Tocchet said. “Stamkos got banged up during the first shift of the game, Marty was playing through an injury, but the guys left it on the ice.”
Pittsburgh avoided losing its third straight on its five-game road trip, thanks to a pair of third-period goals by Pascal Dupuis and Sergei Gonchar that helped the Penguins overcome a one-goal deficit with 18 minutes remaining in regulation.
Tampa Bay found itself in penalty trouble to start the final period, charged with three consecutive infractions that allowed Pittsburgh to mount a comeback.
“I thought we were under control and then we take back-to-back-to-back penalties and they get momentum and start feeling good about themselves,” forward Martin St. Louis said. “It’s hard to give that team back-to-back-to-back power plays. It’s frustrating.”
Dupuis tied it on a rebound to give the Penguins their first goal of the game after a shot by Jordan Staal deflected off the back boards before finding the Pittsburgh winger’s stick as well as the back of the net.
“I think we thought we could get to another level in our game after the first two periods,” Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma said. “We started the period the right way for us and got the game going.”
Gonchar gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead nearly three minutes later on the power play with a slap shot from the high slot that beat Antero Niittymaki at 5:17.
“That power play helped us get the momentum,” Bylsma added. “It was a much different feel on the bench after that. I really liked the way our guys responded.”
Niittymaki made 37 saves and did not allow more than two goals in a game for the 11th time in his last 15.
“Niitty was tremendous, and that’s the way it has to be for us to have a chance here,” St. Louis said.
Lecavalier beat Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury at 8:09 in the second period to put the game’s first tally on the board. The Lightning captain took a perfect feed from Fedoruk behind the net before wristing one over the glove of the Penguins net minder for his 20th of the season.
The Lightning captain nearly tied it with a slap shot during a Tampa Bay power play with 2:22 left, but Fleury made the save to protect the lead and preserve the win.
He finished with 21 saves on 22 shots.
“I thought Vinny had a strong game for us,” Tocchet added. “But you’re relying on a lot of guys. You’re relying on Stammer and you’re relying on Marty, but those guys were banged up tonight. It was tough.”
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