The Pittsburgh Penguins weathered an early Game 3 storm from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then they remembered how they need to play to be successful, and the game started to turn on Pittsburgh’s speed, depth and simple game plan.
The Penguins got pucks deep, behind the Bolts’ big defense. They used their speed to create chances and win puck battles. And they put shots on goal. Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy faced 48 of them, including a 21-shot second period, and somehow managed to keep the game scoreless until 10 seconds remaining in the second.
That’s when Phil Kessel stole a pass from Tampa Bay’s Jonathan Drouin, motored down the right wing and put the puck on goal. It bounced off of Vasilevskiy, but linemate Carl Hagelin, who had gone straight to the net, was there for the rebound.
The Penguins were first on the board, thanks to the HBK line of Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Kessel, who have combined for 39 points in 14 postseason games. Who else?
“They’ve been so good for us for a long time now,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “They’ve established a nice chemistry. I think, when we have the balance throughout our lineup like we do, it really presents some matchup difficulties for our opponents. There’s a lot of threats on that line, and they’ve gotten some huge goals for us throughout the course of these playoffs.”
“Playing with those two, I know I’m going to get some chances every game,” Hagelin said. “And, if I use my skates, I’m going to give them a couple chances.
“Anytime you can score 10 seconds before the period’s over, it’s definitely a momentum boost for our team. That was one of our better periods of the playoffs. You could see how we were on the puck creating chances, and it’s just a matter of time before the puck is going to go in.”
That opened the floodgates. Five minutes into the third, Bonino got the puck out from behind the net to Kessel in front, who put home one of his game-leading eight shots to make the score 2-0.
“I think we have a pretty good idea of where [each another] is going to be,” Bonino said. “He’s open most of the time. So I just trust him and give him the puck and he does what he does.”
“He was a machine all night,” Hagelin said. “He skated well and just overall got a lot of chances.”
Pittsburgh needed the insurance goal just 14 seconds later, when Tyler Johnson narrowed the lead to 2-1. But, around the midway point of the period, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz piled on goals and made the eventual final of 4-2 look almost as dominant as the Penguins’ 48-28 shot advantage.
“We stuck with it,” Bonino said. “It’s easy for them to get one goal the other way and then we deflate, but we kept with it, even after that 2-1 goal for them, and were able to finish it up.”
“Every line’s been doing a good job of holding onto pucks; that’s the biggest thing,” said Crosby, whose goal turned out to be his second game-winner in as many contests. “They’re big D, they’re really physical down low, so you really have to be strong in that area.
“I think we’ve played a pretty simple game. We haven’t tried too many hope plays; just try to be strong on the puck and it’s worked for us.”
Penguins goalie Matt Murray wasn’t as busy as his counterpart but made the stops he needed to, giving his team the opportunity to keep doing what they were doing, even when the shots weren’t going in.
“That’s completely out of my control; I’m not putting the puck in the net so I don’t worry about that,” Murray said. “My job is to keep the puck out at the other end, and I always have faith in the guys that they’re going to put the puck in.”
With the win, the Penguins reclaim home ice in a series that saw them lose their first game at home. A second win at Tampa on Friday would give them clear control of the series, but Pittsburgh respects this fast, skilled Lightning team too much to think that far ahead.
“It’s one game,” said Crosby. “We played really well, we deserved to win and, like any other one, win or lose, you move on and get ready for the next one. You expect them to come out hard, just like they did tonight.”
“We lost the first game [and] there was no panic here, and now they’re down 2-1 and I’m sure there’s not a lot of panic over there,” Bonino said. “These are two good teams. That’s a team that has a lot of playoff experience; they went pretty deep last year. We’re going to expect their best, and we have to bring ours.”