Fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning saw it once from a distance in April, then witnessed it again Thursday night in person.
For the second time in as many games, Dwayne Roloson got the best of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Roloson stopped 33 of 34 shots faced, and Vincent Lecavalier scored twice to help the Bolts to a 4-1 victory over Pittsburgh at the St. Pete Times Forum, extending Tampa Bay’s home win streak to a league-high six games.
“Roloson was at his best tonight,” Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher said. “If your goalie isn’t at his best, you will not beat this team, and tonight he was.”
Much like the last time the two clubs met, in Game 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals back on Apr. 27 that resulted in a 1-0 Lightning shutout, the Bolts net minder was on point.
He made a spectacular pad save on Chris Kunitz with approximately seven minutes remaining in the middle frame, then denied Evgeni Malkin from in-close and followed up with another big stop on Steve Sullivan just moments later.
After holding the Penguins scoreless for nearly 57 minutes, Roloson yielded Pittsburgh’s only goal to Tyler Kennedy, who capped the scoring at 4-1 with 3:11 to go in regulation.
“He was huge,” rookie forward Brett Connolly said. “He made some key saves for us, so that’s why he’s here and that’s what makes him a great goalie. He was great tonight.”
Both Connolly and Steve Downie added power-play goals for the Lightning, who last won six straight at home in March of 2006.
“I wish I could pinpoint something,” Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer said regarding why his team has been so successful at home. “It would be really nice, but I just don’t have an answer for it.”
A physical first period was accentuated by a strong effort from the Lightning’s penalty kill unit, which was helped along by several key saves from Roloson.
Overall on the night, Tampa Bay went a perfect six-for-six in killing off its own shorthanded situations.
Just 28 seconds after eliminating the Penguins’ first opportunity with the man advantage, Lecavalier opened the scoring at 8:38 of the first opened to put the Lightning on top 1-0.
After a Pittsburgh turnover in its own defensive zone, Lecavalier took the puck and drove to the net before beating Marc-Andre Fleury through the five hole with his seventh of the season.
“We had a mishandled puck and that gave them a chance,” Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said. “I thought our team played well though and we did the things we needed to do and had opportunities to score.”
Fluery, who entered the contest 10-2-1, made 14 saves.
Despite holding Tampa Bay to a near season-low 18 shots on goal, the loss marked the Pittsburgh goaltender’s first in regulation since Oct. 17, exactly one month to the day of Thursday’s contest.
“This team is as hard as it gets,” Boucher added. “But we met the challenge tonight, just like we did against Chicago. We are at home and we’ve been doing this from the beginning. It feels great to win in front of our fans.”
Pittsburgh entered Thursday tied for the NHL lead with 25 points. The Penguins have now alternated wins and losses in each of their past four games.
After allowing just three power-play goals all season, Pittsburgh allowed one in each of the last two periods which helped the Lightning pull away.
First, Connolly’s redirection of Dominic Moore’s slap shot from the high slot made it 2-0 just four minutes into the middle frame on the power play, marking the first opposing goal with the man advantage given up by Fleury all season.
After initially having his own stick knocked loose, Connolly skated towards the Lightning bench and was handed the stick of Steven Stamkos instead, which was then used to notch the rookie forward’s first NHL career power-play goal.
“What can I say?” Connolly said. “His stick has the magic touch.”
Tampa Bay then went up by three to open the third period after Downie converted a rebound from the slot by wristing one past Fleury at 2:04.
“It’s no magic,” Brewer said of the team’s success on the power play. “Just shoot the puck. Our power play hasn’t been where we want it lately, and we knew we had to get it on net to get an opportunity, so that’s what we did.”
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