The final score of Saturday’s game was indeed one-sided, but perhaps not an accurate reflection of the effort put forth by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning outshot and outchanced the Pittsburgh Penguins, but couldn’t overcome some bad luck as the Bolts fell 8-1 at the CONSOL Energy Center.
Teddy Purcell scored the lone goal for Tampa Bay, which dropped its second straight game, and Dwayne Roloson made 26 saves for the Lightning, 10-5-2 in their past 17 games.
The defeat keeps Tampa Bay with 60 points in the Eastern Conference standings, six behind the division-rival Florida Panthers for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Evgeni Malkin had three goals to record his ninth career hat trick, and Jordan Staal scored twice and had three points for the Penguins, winners in two straight and in three of the past four.
The win helped push Pittsburgh past idle New Jersey for fourth place in the crowded Eastern Conference playoff chase.
James Neal and Steve Sullivan each added three assists for Pittsburgh, which got 34 saves from goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
A pair of goals within a span of 50 seconds put the Penguins out to a quick 2-0 lead.
First, Chris Kuntiz opened the scoring by beating Roloson with a one-timer to the far post at 11:09, before Matt Cooke doubled the advantage after wristing a shot off the crossbar that bounced off the back of Roloson’s skate before making its way into the net.
Staal then made it 3-0 just 2:41 later by beating the Lightning net minder through the five hole to finish off a shorthanded breakaway. It appeared defenseman Victor Hedman was in proper position to keep the play in along the boards, but was inadvertently interfered with by the linesman as the puck trickled out towards center ice, allowing Staal to skate in one-on-one against Roloson for the goal.
“I thought we did a lot of good things in the period, but we really had the disadvantage of being on the wrong end of some bad bounces,” Lightning assistant coach Martin Raymond said. “It was frustrating for sure.”
The hard luck continued for the Lightning in the second period, although this time at the other end.
Steven Stamkos had a chance to cut the deficit to two on a breakaway just four minutes in, but had the puck poke-checked away by Fleury from in close. Fleury then turned back Brett Connolly on the ensuing rebound chance before a third attempt by Hedman rang off the crossbar to keep the Bolts off the board.
Moments later, Fleury came up big again, denying Trevor Smith a pad save and thwarting a second breakaway opportunity by Martin St. Louis.
Staal’s second of the night brought the score to 4-0 after finishing off a 2-on-1 chance with Steve Sullivan while on the power play, and Malkin added an additional tally to put Pittsburgh up by five on a hard shot from a sharp angle at 16:03.
“We try to take advantage of our opportunities when we can,” Staal said. “I thought we did a good job sticking to our system.”
After a pile-up in the crease down in the offensive zone, Purcell found a loose puck and wristed one past Fleury to get the Lightning on the board and cut the deficit to four at 17:28 of the second while on the power play.
Pittsburgh went up 6-1 when Malkin’s end-to-end rush resulted in his second goal of the night at 5:50 of the third.
The Penguins forward completed the hat trick, his second this season against the Lightning, at 6:18 with this third of the night that made it 7-1.
Malkin now has eight goals and 11 points in three games this season versus Tampa Bay. His 77 points this season now have him up by four in the NHL’s scoring lead over Stamkos, who entered Saturday’s contest tied for a then league-best 73.
Dupuis capped the scoring with 47 seconds to play with his 14th of the season.