PITTSBURGH — Like the result, not how it resulted.
Tampa Bay lost another third-period lead, rallied late to push Pittsburgh to overtime before eventually falling 4-3 in front of an announced crowd of 18,668 at CONSOL Energy Center.
James Neal scored Pittsburgh’s third power play goal of the game 1:27 into overtime to give the Penguins the victory to end the Lightning’s five-game winning streak. Tampa Bay has not beaten the Penguins in the regular season since Nov. 17, 2011 posting an 0-8-1 record in the past nine and is 0-6-1 in the past seven regular season meetings at CONSOL Center.
Despite the setback, however, Tampa Bay did extend its streak of consecutive games with a point to eight (5-0-3) and maintained its hold on second place in the Atlantic Division with 11 games remaining in the regular season, eight of which will be played at home.
Ondrej Palat recused the point for the Lightning with a spectacular goal with 1:22 left in regulation, less than two minutes after Pittsburgh grabbed the lead following an egregious turnover by Tyler Johnson. Steven Stamkos had a goal and an assist to reach the 20-goal mark in his 26th game of the season while Valtteri Filppula set a new career high with his 24th goal of the season. Anders Lindback stopped 25 shots in just his second start since the Olympics.
But Evgeni Malkin scored twice and added two assists while league-leading scorer Sidney Crosby had a goal and assist to lead the Penguins power play assault.
“You can’t take six penalties against them, that’s the bottom line, against the best power play in the league,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “You look at the five guys they roll out there, it’s not just class, it’s world class. If you are going to take six penalties you are going to put yourself in trouble and that’s we did tonight.’’
Despite the outcome, and losing the third-period lead when Stamkos knocked in a rebound at 8:17 of the third period, the bigger picture is what Saturday’s game meant in the standings as Tampa Bay was able to pick up a point against one of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference while finishing off a three-game road trip with a 2-0-1 record.
“I see a team that is fighting for a playoff spot and went on the road against two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Toronto) and a team that is fighting for a playoff spot (Ottawa) and picked up five out of six points,’’ Cooper said. “We need to get points. Is it extremely frustrating how (Saturday’s) game ended up, clearly it is because we want to win that game.’’
The teams traded power play goals in the second period, with Malkin feeding Crosby for a one-timer from the right circle at 5:29 and Stamkos doing the same to set up Filppula at 16:44.
Stamkos would give Tampa Bay it’s first lead of the game, finding a rebound of a Radko Gudas wrist shot. But Alex Killorn was called for slashing Malkin at 10:33 when it appeared Malkin dropped his stick to draw the call. And it was Malkin that would end up tying the game, finding a rebound of Matt Niskanen’s shot at 11:07. Malkin again made Tampa Bay pay for a mistake when Johnson gave away a puck in the defensive zone right on the stick of Jussi Jokinen, who found Malkin unmarked down low for a blind backhand shot to give Pittsburgh the lead with 3:17 left.
That’s when Palat silenced the crowd to ensure the Lightning’s effort did not go wasted.
“That’s huge and that’s what this group has been great at lately,’’ Lindback said. “We’ve been finding ways to get back in games, it doesn’t matter what the score is or what happens. We had that tough break with (three) minutes left and we just kept going. That shows a lot of character and that’s what we really need to build on.’’
As well as the successful road trip, despite the way things finished on Saturday.
“The main thing here is that we keep getting points as a team,’’ Filppula said. “If we keep getting points we are going to do well. It hurts to lose for a little bit of time . . . but to get points in this kind of game is always good.’’