The Penguins returned home following a three-game road trip that saw them take two of possible six points. Looking to rebound in a big way, they welcomed back the Tampa Bay Lightning who found themselves in a slump of their own despite the outstanding February play of Steven Stamkos. With both teams looking to make a statement, and some of the best in the NHL facing off one another (seriously, look at the stats) it was sure to be an interesting game.
With just over four minutes off the clock in the first, Deryk Engelland and Pierre-Cedric Labrie dropped the gloves, going head-to-head in a spirited bout despite the fact that James Neal had set himself up for an excellent scoring opportunity. The fight would come to a draw and both players earned a five minute time out, no harm, no foul. Seconds later, Chris Kunitz would open up the scoring for Pittsburgh, his goal coming with 4:13 off the clock. (That goal would be Pittsburgh’s twelfth goal earned in the first five minutes of play which is more than double of that of the team holding second position for that particular stat.) Sidney Crosby owned Steven Stamkos, throwing him off the puck while protecting it along the boards long enough to send it, backhand, to Kunitz who was waiting in the slot. Pittsburgh continued with a couple good opportunities, but would be held to the lone goal. Tampa would earn a three-on-one opportunity, but Stamkos couldn’t beat Fleury. The teams would exchange penalties yet again when Martin St. Louis attempted to go with Deryk Engelland and both were whistled for cross-checking. At the end of the first twenty, Pittsburgh held an 11 to 7 advantage in shots.
Fifteen seconds into the second, Victor Hedberg was sent to the box following a trip, sending the Penguins to an early power play. Tampa would survive Pittsburgh’s man advantage but would lose goaltender Mathieu Garon in the process. Clearly uncomfortable, Garon would be attended to by Tampa’s athletic trainers before being escorted across ice and making his way down the runway. Anders Lindback would make his way to the net, and Tampa followed with their first goal, courtesy of – you guessed it – Steven Stamkos. The Penguins came close to regaining the lead on what appeared to be a Tyler Kennedy tip-in, but the puck just skimmed the line without actually crossing over. The Lightning would take the lead with nine minutes left in the period, the goal credited to Tom Pyatt after an awkward deflection off of his face (his nose, to be exact.) The Penguins earned the man advantage once again when Eric Brewer was called for a hook but were unable to capitalize. Heading into the third, Tampa held the one-goal advantage.
Tampa’s first power play of the game came three minutes into the third when Matt Niskanen was sent to the box for interference. Not only was Pittsburgh successful in killing off the penalty, but they followed it up with their second goal of the night. This time it was Evgeni Malkin absolutely plowing through Tampa’s defenders before ripping a shot that would beat Lindback and tie the game. Two minutes later, Sidney Crosby proved to the world why he is the best with absolute patience and precision to start the play at the blue line, manoeuver the puck through Tampa’s line and around the net to Letang who would send it back to Crosby. All Crosby had to do was wind up and blast it past Lindback and the Penguins found themselves ahead by a goal. James Neal eventually sealed the deal with an empty netter despite a late, last minute, final-ten-second goal by Stamkos. Pittsburgh took the game 4 to 3, coming back for the first time this season after trailing heading into the third.
With 28:11 of ice time, Kris Letang continues to lead all Penguins skaters followed by Brooks Orpik with 22:45. Evgeni Malkin notched five shots on goal while Letang had four. Marc-Andre Fleury faced 28 shots while Garon and Lindback, combined, faced 32. Crosby, Malkin and Letang each recorded two point nights.
Pittsburgh continues to be without Paul Martin, side-lined with a lower-body injury.
Pittsburgh will have two days to regroup before heading to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers. Game time is 7:00pm.