It would have been an understatement to say Saturday’s contest in Pittsburgh was a rebound game for the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was more of a statement.
Coming off consecutive defeats and facing elimination, the Bolts exploded for seven goals to avoid a first-round exit and to force a sixth game in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals after earning a 8-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center Saturday afternoon.
The Lightning, following a pair of straight losses on home ice, have now won two of three on the road in the first-round bout as the series shifts back to Tampa Bay for Game 6 Monday night.
“I think today was about intensity,” Lightning forward Adam Hall said. “Everyone was on the same page.”
After Pittsburgh went up by a two-goal lead in each of the previous two contests, Tampa Bay turned things around on Pittsburgh to set the tone, which carried through all the way until the final horn.
Gagne opened the scoring late in the period after shoveling in a rebound from the low slot past Fleury after Teddy Purcell fired a wrist shot that ricocheted off the crossbar. Stamkos doubled the lead 46 seconds later, giving the young star his first career postseason goal.
“That one felt good to get the monkey off my back,” Stamkos said. “I wanted to be a guy the team could count on, especially in a big game like this.”
Dwayne Roloson gave the raucous crowd inside the CONSOL Energy Center, which consisted of 18,535 screaming fans hoping for a series-clinching victory, a bad feeling early on when he denied attempt after attempt on each Penguins scoring chance, while his teammates revealed their trademarked relentless offensive style at the other end. Approximately midway through the third period, a number of fans were seen exiting the arena in disappointment.
“We had to have a shooting mentality today,” Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said.
Simon Gagne, Pavel Kubina and Steven Stamkos each had two goals for the Lightning, whose eight goals in the contest marked the most-ever in a single playoff game in franchise history. Roloson finished the night with 31 saves.
“At the end, the most important thing is that we won the game, not what the score was,” Gagne said. “We came here to play desperation hockey.”
Vincent Lecavalier made it 3-0 early in the middle frame after his second goal of the playoffs beat Marc-Andre Fleury at 1:55.
Fleury made just 10 saves on 14 shots for the Penguins. Pittsburgh’s only goals came late in the game in succession from Mike Rupp and Chris Conner.
What seemed to be invisible during the Lightning’s home portion of the series in Games 3 and 4 turned up Saturday in Game 5, as Tampa Bay did a good job of getting bodies in front, cleaning up rebounds and scoring the dirty goals in front of the crease.
The approach proved useful in the first half of the second period, as evidenced by Gagne’s goal at 5:31 that put the Lightning up by four. As Steve Downie exited the penalty box, he sent a pass over to Dominic Moore, who sent a shot on net that was kicked out by the leg pad of Fleury. Gagne, however, stationed in front, found the rebound and dragged the puck out of the crease before firing a wrist shot into an open net for a 4-0 advantage.
Gagne’s goal served as the final straw for Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma, who pulled his starting goaltender from the game with approximately 14 and a half minutes still to play in the second.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, backup goaltender Brent Johnson didn’t do much better.
Less than two minutes following the changing of the guard in net, Stamkos’ second of the game, this time on the power play, beat Johnson to make it 5-0 at exactly seven minutes.
“This was a do or die game for us and we wanted to start the game off the right way,” Stamkos added. “Those first two goals were huge.”
Pavel Kubina scored twice on the power play to put the Lightning up 7-0 before Rupp got Pittsburgh’s first goal on the board at 6:36. Conner then cut the deficit to five with a tally just 1:46 later.
Tampa Bay’s power play, which entered the contest ranked fifth in the postseason of 16 teams, was superb Saturday afternoon much like it has been since the beginning Game 1. The Bolts unit with the extra skater converted four of seven chances throughout the day, which also indicated a new team postseason record.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, had its fair share of opportunities as well, but much like it has in the majority of the series, failed to take advantage, going 0-for-6. The Penguins have now converted just one time on 24 total attempts.
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