TAMPA – For a Tampa Bay Lightning team with a majority of its players still unknown by the rest of the league, the growing pains showed in a 5-4 loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Staying on the winning-side of a back-and-forth battle until the closing minutes of the game, a late penalty erased the Bolts hopes for at least one or the possibility of two points in the standings. It also reminded Tampa Bay that this is one of many learning curves that the youth-filled Bolts may go through.
“We have a young team and this is a team sport and guys take penalties,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “‘Do I like the way the penalties were taken? Absolutely not. Is it unacceptable? It is. We didn’t manage the game. In saying that, you got to kill one of the penalties off. You kill one and we’re still playing.”
It was also a good measuring stick for Tampa Bay, who proved that with a little more time to grow they can hang with what Cooper called the “cream of the crop in the Eastern Conference” earlier today.
“I don’t think anybody can sit here who watched the game and say they outplayed us,” Cooper said. “I’m obviously cheering for one team over the other, but I think I call them straight most of the time and I thought it was one heck of a hockey game to be honest.”
Goaltender Anders Lindback, who faced a number of deflections and a bad bounce, was handed his second defeat of the season, stopping 21 of 26 shots by the Penguins in the losing effort.
“It’s frustrating, but my job is to keep at it and try to keep the team in the game and that’s not how it turned out,” Lindback said.
The Lightning took action early to push momentum in their favor. Ryan Malone dropped the gloves with the Penguins' Craig Adams just four seconds into the game, as the two then headed to the penalty box for fighting majors. Pittsburgh took three separate penalties after the initial match between Malone and Adams and despite keeping the puck in the Penguins’ zone, the Bolts were unable to score.
“We wanted to come out hard and Malone set the tone right away and that was huge for us,” Radko Gudas said. “I thought we had good momentum right there out of the fight”
Three minutes after the Bolts third power-play opportunity expired, Valtteri Filppula netted the first goal of the game and his fourth of the season at 13:25 of the first. Richard Panik started the play with a pass to Alex Killorn at the top of the left face-off circle. Killorn shot the one-timer, which Filppula was able to redirect in front of Marc-Andre Fleury’s net for a 1-0 score.
At the end of the opening frame Pittsburgh received their first man-advantage opportunity, but Lindback stopped nearly half of the Penguins total shots on goal in the first during the two minute power-play to protect the lead.
The Lightning and the Penguins then exchanged four goals in the second period. After going on the penalty kill with Eric Brewer and Malone in the box, Pittsburgh struck at 2:14 of the second. Sidney Crosby was setup in Lindback’s crease and buried the rebound from Jussi Jokinen for even the game at one. Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos completed a passing sequence down Pittsburgh’s zone just under three minutes later. The play ended with a wrister from Stamkos, which passed by Fleury to re-gain a 2-1 lead. Victor Hedman also earned his second assist in as many games on the goal.
A bad break for Lindback knotted the game back at two at 7:01 of the middle period. Pascal Dupuis took the initial shot from the blueline, which took a bounce that Brooks Orpik managed to deflect up and over Lindback’s shoulder two minutes after Stamkos’ goal. Tampa Bay responded with a power-play goal of their own before the period’s end however, after Teddy Purcell tipped-in Sami Salo’s shot for the 3-2 score.
The Penguins got right back to work early in the final period. Matt Niskanen passed across the ice to Rob Scuderi along the blueline. Scuderi then took the shot, which Crosby deflected into Lindback’s net 25 seconds into the third for a 3-3 tie. Pittsburgh took their first lead of the game on the power-play after the Bolts' Brewer tried to clear the zone. The Penguins intercepted the puck before it crossed the blueline, as they then completed some nifty passes, which Crosby was able to finish for a 4-3 lead and his first hat trick of the season.
Tampa Bay showcased a fancy passing play of their own in the attacking zone that included quick touches from Flippula, Tyler Johnson, Panik and Killorn. Killorn tallied on the play sneaking the puck by Fleury's stick side to lock the game at four. Yet Panik took a tripping call in the final minute of the game, that led to Niskanen’s power-play goal with 18.6 seconds left that the Lightning were unable to counter.
“It’s not fun to lose any day, but with 18 seconds left is even worse,” Gudas said. “We had one point basically in our fingers, but it slipped away and we need to learn from that.”