Friday, January 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning edges Penguins

TAMPA — Watching the Lightning-Penguins showdown Thursday night in sold-out Amalie Arena, a couple of thoughts came to mind.

These might be the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.

And wouldn't it be fun to see this matchup in a seven-game playoff series this spring?

The Lightning held on to beat the defending Stanley Cup champions 5-4 in a thrilling, bring-your-Rolaids kind of shootout in front of 19,092. Yes, it's only October. And yes, Pittsburgh was in the second of back-to-back games and playing its backup goalie.

But that didn't make this victory any less significant for Tampa Bay, which hadn't beaten Pittsburgh since the 2016 Eastern Conference final. The Lightning lost all three meetings last season, when it stunningly missed the playoffs.

"We just won a hockey game against the defending champs," coach Jon Cooper said. "So I think any coach would be happy to win the game."

RELATED: Steven Stamkos scores his first goal since injury.

For all the hype surrounding the Lightning season, Cooper believed this week's homestand — against the Capitals, Penguins and Blues on Saturday — would be a barometer. And to win the first two games, including Monday's 4-3 come-from-behind overtime win over Washington, could be the boost Tampa Bay needs to get off to the kind of strong start that was elusive the past two seasons.

"Those two teams, the Capitals and Penguins, are both teams we've always had a lot of trouble with in the past couple years," said Alex Killorn, who had a career-high four assists. "To get two wins at the beginning of the season against them in front of our home crowd, it's huge momentum. We want to keep going, keep building."

There was an unlikely hero for the Lightning, with defenseman Slater Koekkoek scoring his first two NHL goals, his second one the winner. Koekkoek, who played just three minutes Monday, scored on two of his three shots, the first a changeup shot from the point that got deflected by the Penguins' Tom Kuhnhackl. Koekkoek chuckled on his way back to the bench after the milestone goal.

"Someone was watching over me," he said, smiling. "I'll take it."

RELATED: Joe Smith's takeaways from Thursday's Lightning-Penguins game.

The usual suspects also came through for Tampa Bay (3-1-0). Steven Stamkos scored his first goal since mid-November knee surgery, fittingly a one-timer on a power play. Victor Hedman got a buzzer-beater, a goal with .1 seconds left in the first period that gave the Lightning the lead for good. Nikita Kucherov scored his fourth goal in as many games. And goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made sure the lead held up, stopping 36 of 40 shots.

Vasilevskiy's biggest save came midway through the third, with Tampa Bay clinging to a one-goal lead. Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel got free on a breakaway, but Vasilevskiy thwarted his five-hole attempts. "That was a game-saver for us," Stamkos said.

25TH ANNIVERSARY FLASHBACK: The Lightning's inaugural season was full of heart.

There are still plenty of things for the Lightning to improve on. As exciting as the pace Tampa Bay played with was, it can't consistently win if it gives up 40 shots a game.

"It seemed like it was game where there wasn't a whole lot of defense played on either side," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "There were a lot of Grade A scoring chances at both ends of the ice. It was one of those types of games. It was a track meet. It seemed like the last shot was going to win."

It was a track meet. And it is one many Lightning fans would no doubt like to see repeated in the spring.

Lightning 2 3 0 5
Penguins 1 2 1 4
Lightning 2 3 0 5
Penguins 1 2 1 4

 

First Period1, Tampa Bay, Koekkoek 1 (Stralman, Kunitz), 6:07. 2, Pittsburgh, Guentzel 2 (Rust, Letang), 13:46. 3, Tampa Bay, Hedman 1 (Killorn, Kucherov), 19:59 (pp). PenaltiesGirardi, TB, (tripping), 11:42; Reaves, PIT, (holding), 14:07; Letang, PIT, (delay of game), 18:39.

Second Period4, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 1 (Killorn, Namestnikov), 3:49 (pp). 5, Pittsburgh, Sheary 3 (Ruhwedel, Niemi), 8:58. 6, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 4 (Coburn, Killorn), 9:49. 7, Pittsburgh, Rust 1 (Guentzel, Maatta), 14:24 (pp). 8, Tampa Bay, Koekkoek 2 (Johnson, Killorn), 17:55. PenaltiesRowney, PIT, (slashing), 3:37; Coburn, TB, (slashing), 6:05; Hagelin, PIT, (interference), 10:06; Dumont, TB, (tripping), 12:55; Koekkoek, TB, (interference), 15:45.

Third Period9, Pittsburgh, Hunwick 1 (McKegg, Kessel), 10:01. PenaltiesJohnson, TB, (interference), 2:14; Kessel, PIT, (slashing), 19:02. Shots on GoalPittsburgh 12-16-12—40. Tampa Bay 16-12-6—34. Power-play opportunitiesPittsburgh 1 of 5; Tampa Bay 2 of 5. GoaliesPittsburgh, Niemi 0-2-0 (34 shots-29 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 3-1-0 (40-36). A19,092 (19,092). T2:41.

     
 
Comments
Steven Stamkos: ‘I have to be a lot better’

Steven Stamkos: ‘I have to be a lot better’

There was plenty of blame to go around after the Lightning's 4-1 loss to the Golden Knights Thursday night.This loss wasn't on one person, no question.But captain Steven Stamkos showed some leadership by shouldering some responsibility for the team's...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Lightning falls to Golden Knights

Lightning falls to Golden Knights

TAMPA — The door to the Lightning dressing room remained closed a little longer than usual Thursday night, and that wasn’t surprising. After the kind of performance displayed in its 4-1 loss to the expansion Golden Knights, this had team...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Lightning journal: Cory Conacher ready to take advantage of J.T. Brown’s departure

Lightning journal: Cory Conacher ready to take advantage of J.T. Brown’s departure

TAMPA — The loss of wing J.T. Brown to Anaheim will be a gain for some Lightning forwards in terms of ice time. Whether those players are currently with the team or still at AHL Syracuse has yet to be determined.For now, C Cory Conacher will try to t...
Updated: 10 hours ago

Joe Smith’s takeaways from Thursday’s Lightning-Golden Knights game

Thought the bye week was a much-needed break for Andrei Vasilevskiy. And though you can’t pin Thursday’s loss on the goalie, he still gave up at least four goals for the fourth straight start (19 overall). Tampa Bay is used to Vasilevskiy’s brillianc...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Jonathan Marchessault on Lightning: ‘It started here’

Jonathan Marchessault on Lightning: ‘It started here’

Life is good for Jonathan Marchessault.The former Lightning forward is thriving for the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, which recently signed the undrafted forward to a six-year, $30 million deal. Marchessault's wife is expecting their third child, a...
Published: 01/18/18
Lightning’s Cory Conacher hopes ‘simple’ leads to more ice time

Lightning’s Cory Conacher hopes ‘simple’ leads to more ice time

The loss of wing J.T. Brown to Anaheim will be a gain for some Lightning forwards in terms of ice time. Whether that player is currently with the team or still at AHL Syracuse has yet to be determined.Center Cory Conacher, a healthy scratch in the Li...
Published: 01/18/18
‘Piratically speaking,’ NHL thrilled to don Gasparilla garb for All-Star Game

‘Piratically speaking,’ NHL thrilled to don Gasparilla garb for All-Star Game

TAMPA — Jose Gaspar, mythical pirate, meet Lord Stanley of Preston. Hang out, get to know one another, have as much fun as possible during the wrinkle in time that makes possible what will likely be a one-time-only encounter. Next weekend, th...
Published: 01/18/18
With Victor Hedman out, Lightning’s Slater Koekkoek finally gets chance to prove himself

With Victor Hedman out, Lightning’s Slater Koekkoek finally gets chance to prove himself

TAMPA — When it comes to replacing its top defenseman, the Lightning realizes that’s not possible."Let’s be honest," coach Jon Cooper said. "Nobody in that room is Victor Hedman."But with Hedman out three to six weeks with a lower-body injury, it mea...
Published: 01/17/18
Updated: 01/18/18
Vegas-Lightning, of all things, is the biggest show in town

Vegas-Lightning, of all things, is the biggest show in town

TAMPA — It's Vegas night.Who would have thought we would have been circling this one on the schedule before the NHL season began?Vegas Golden Knights and Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena.We've circled it just the same.It's Vegas night.Any wa...
Published: 01/17/18
Could Mikhail Sergachev replace Hedman on All-Star team?

Could Mikhail Sergachev replace Hedman on All-Star team?

With Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman out 3-6 weeks with a lower body injury, he has to get replaced on the Atlantic Division team. There are plenty of strong candidates to fill the void, including the Maple Leafs' Morgan Rielly and Boston rookie C...
Published: 01/17/18