If the Tampa Bay Lightning were going to lose Monday night, they weren’t going to do down without a fight. Not in the playoffs.
After cruising to a 5-1 victory in Friday’s Game 2, Tampa Bay found itself in a much different predicament that was more comparable the opening contest in the best-of-seven series, where neither side was willing to give much space, as evidenced by a tight-checking, hard-hitting style of play.
Such was the story again in Game 3, where a 25-save effort by Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and a key third-period goal by Tyler Kennedy helped Pittsburgh defeat Tampa Bay, 3-2, to retake its one-game lead in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the St. Pete Times Forum.
“It was playoff hockey,” Lightning forward Martin St. Louis said. “You have to expect that every game and know they’re a team who’s not going to give you much room. You really have to fight for your space and bring the puck to the scoring area.”
St. Louis heeded his own advice early on the final frame. He pulled the team all the way back from a 2-0 hole to knot the game at a pair of goals apiece just 2:12 into the third period, but not for long. Kennedy’s goal just 31 seconds later proved to be the decisive tally, as he slipped one past Dwayne Roloson, who despite allowing three goals for the second time in three games, made a number of acrobatic saves to keep things close and to give his side a chance to steal a pivotal contest in front of the home crowd.
The game was the Lightning’s first in the postseason in its home arena since April of 2007 when the Bolts’ season came to an end following a first-round exit to the New Jersey Devils in six games.
Suffice it to say an announced crowd of 20,545 was loud, raucous and promises another equally strong showing when the two clubs face off for Game 4 Wednesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.
“We were aware Tampa Bay was coming to their first home game and the building was going to be very loud,” Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said. “They’re a team that likes to come out hard.”
The Lightning indeed did, but much like in Game 1, Pittsburgh struck first with a quick pair of unanswered goals that came just 45 seconds apart from Maxime Talbot and Arron Asham.
“To get those quick goals early, those were big,” Fleury said.
First Talbot lofted a soft wrist shot from the right circle that drifted past the glove of Roloson and into the net. His first of the postseason came off a transition following a crushing body check by Steve Downie on Pittsburgh defenseman Ben Lovejoy behind the Penguins net, allowing him time to grab the loose puck and skate hard down the right boards before unleashing a wrist shot from the right circle that beat Roloson to the short side.
Asham doubled the lead soon after, tapping in a cross-crease pass from Mike Rupp to finish off an odd-man rush at 6:31.
“We knew they were going to come out with a push,” Lightning assistant coach Martin Raymond said. “They got a couple of lucky screens in front, but we were able to come back and battle hard towards the end of the period.”
St. Louis cut the deficit to one on the power play after he found a loose puck in front and elevated a backhand over the shoulder of Fleury at 15:19.
With time winding down in the second period, the Penguins were applying pressure. A pass through the low slot ricocheted out in front and found the stick of James Neal in the crease, but Roloson made a spectacular save by extending his leg out to the near post to kick the puck out from the goal mouth.
Roloson, who one-upped Fleury with a 35-save effort en route to a 5-1 win in Game 2 at Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center Friday night, showed his mettle even with the Penguins threatening to add on. Soon after denying Neal near the crease, he turned back a powerful shot from Kris Letang and also shut the door on Alex Kovalev’s rebound attempt at the right post a brief moment later.
St. Louis’ second of the night with the man advantage in the final period’s early stages appeared as if it would shift the momentum in the Lightning’s favor as it pushed for a late go-ahead goal. Instead, it was Kennedy who cashed in on just that at the other end of the ice to cap the scoring.
“We dug ourselves out of a pretty big hole,” St. Louis added. “We were down 2-0 and it’s tough to come back in the playoffs, but we did. We just would have liked to have played a tied game for a little bit.”
Not that it provided any consolation in terms of soothing the loss, Tampa Bay strayed away from what ailed it through the first two games by keeping itself out of the penalty box. Pittsburgh had only two chances with an extra attacker throughout the night as opposed to 13 in the opening pair of contests, but still failed to convert, as the Lightning have now killed off all 15 shorthanded situations faced in the playoffs.
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