Before Friday’s Game 2 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said he expected a “response game” from the Lightning.
“There are some aspects of their game I think they can focus on and do better for 60 [minutes],” Bylsma said. “A few of their guys were in their first game; they’ve experienced Game 1 now and they can put a better game out there. That’s something that we’ll be ready for.”
As it turned out, he got the first part right.
Like they did in Game 1, the Bolts came out with a strong effort in the first period. This time, however, Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t sharp enough to bail the Penguins out from their mistakes.
After withstanding a barrage of early chances by the Lightning in Game 1 to give his team the chance to win the game, Fleury let a soft goal by Tampa Bay’s Eric Brewer sail over his glove just two minutes into Game 2. By the end of the frame, he had allowed three goals on eight shots, and the Penguins had dug themselves a 3-0 hole that proved insurmountable.
“They do have a good offense, but I was still definitely hoping to do better tonight,” Fleury said.
But Fleury could hardly shoulder the blame alone. A failed clearing attempt by the Penguins led to Vinny Lecavalier netting the Lightning’s second goal on the power play. The third came when Fleury let up a big rebound in front of the net and the Bolts’ Nate Thompson went right to the net – as his team did at will for much of the night – and put it home.
“[We gave up] a couple odd-man rushes, they capitalized on the mistakes we made and, before we knew it, it was 3-0,” said Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik.
Unlike Game 1, where Pittsburgh earned six power play chances to Tampa Bay’s one, Game 2 was more even – at least in terms of opportunities. But the Bolts’ power play was able to step up, going 2-for-6, while the Penguins’ went 0-for-7 and continued to look very much like one that had finished 25th of 30 in the regular season.
And, although Pittsburgh finished the year with the league’s best penalty kill, they tempted fate by letting the Lightning’s dangerous power play go to work two times too many.
“We let a couple of their guys frustrate us and get under our skin,” Orpik said. “They goaded us into taking penalties and we were stupid enough to retaliate in a couple instances.”
“We know the power play is something they’ve excelled at, and we took too many penalties, made that a factor in the game,” Bylsma said. “They’re a momentum team, and getting two goals, getting [an early] power play goal got them what they needed to do right off the hop. And it took us a while to right the ship.”
The Penguins tried to take a page out of their Game 1 script by seizing the momentum back in the second period, and it almost worked. Pittsburgh got a power play opportunity just eight seconds into the period and started to control the play.
“We had talked about exactly what happened in the second period [last game] before the period started,” said Lightning head coach Guy Boucher. “They’re home, they’re a proud team and they’re going to be coming out hard. We wanted to avoid taking penalties and, on the first shift, that wasn’t what we wanted. They got momentum and we started to run around a bit.”
Midway through the frame, winger Arron Asham helped get Lightning netminder Dwayne Roloson out of position, then put a pass in front of the net for Craig Adams to cash in. The crowd of 18,507 – the largest ever to see a game at CONSOL Energy Center – came back to life along with the Penguins’ offense. And, a few minutes later, center Mark Letestu hit a post that nearly made it 3-2.
“For 12-15 minutes of the second period, they couldn’t even get out of their zone,” Orpik said. “When we play the right way and we play physical there, it wears down on them, and we get chances.”
But the Penguins didn’t get that break. And, with 14 seconds remaining in the second period, Tampa’s Martin St. Louis – a frequent thorn in Pittsburgh’s side over the years – scored on the power play to make it 4-1 and squash any hope of a Penguins comeback attempt. Mattias Ohlund would add a shorthanded empty netter late in the third to make it a 5-1 final.
“In the second period, we got to our game, and then that fourth goal killed us,” said Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek. “That can’t happen.”
“That goal was big; at the end of a period it’s always big,” Boucher said. “It certainly gives you some momentum and some confidence going into your dressing room.”
The series shifts to Tampa Bay for Game 3 Monday and Game 4 Wednesday. Although the series is tied, 1-1, the Lightning accomplished something significant in Game 2 – stealing the Penguins’ home-ice advantage. For this first time this season, one of these teams managed to win in the other’s building, which means the Penguins will have to do the same if they hope to win the series.
“We just didn’t have it tonight; that’s the way it goes,” Asham said. “We have confidence in here; we know we’ve got a good team. We’ve just got to get ready for Monday, be prepared for the atmosphere there and, hopefully, steal a couple of games.”