TAMPA — Even without Sidney Crosby, out with a broken jaw, the Penguins, atop the Eastern Conference, are a formidable team.
So, there was no shame in Tampa Bay's 6-3 loss Thursday night in front of a sellout, though Penguins-friendly, crowd of 19,204 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
It's just the Lightning felt it could have been — and perhaps should have been — at least a little closer.
"It's just a little frustrating because you look up there (at the scoreboard) and think, 'My gosh, we're that far behind,' " coach Jon Cooper said. "But it didn't feel like it was that type of game. It's too bad."
What is too bad is how the Lightning (17-21-2) sabotaged itself despite three power-play goals, two by Teddy Purcell and one by Brett Connolly, that upped its surge with the man advantage to 6-for-13.
But the Penguins also had three power-play goals. Goaltender Ben Bishop, in his fifth straight start, looked ordinary despite 35 saves. And Tampa Bay, which lost at home in regulation for the first time in seven games, shot itself in the foot at the worst time.
Down 3-2, Alex Killorn's terrible back-pass giveaway to Evgeni Malkin led to a back-breaking goal 1:24 into the third period on a shot Bishop should have stopped. And what had been a hotly contested game became a rout.
Most egregious for Cooper, though, were the opportunities to shoot passed up by the Lightning, which was outshot 41-19, including 14-4 in the third period.
"You can't go into a game against this team and think we're just going to tic-tac-toe and go back door for the highlight goal of the night," Cooper said. "I thought we passed up a lot of shots. We had time and possession in their zone for extended periods and came up with zero shots on goal."
It doesn't help when Vinny Lecavalier has zero shots and Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis have one each.
But bigger picture, Cooper added to a lament heard constantly from former coach Guy Boucher: "We have an A opportunity and we're passing it up for a B opportunity. That's the mentality we have to get out of our heads."
Say this for the Lightning, it met the physical challenge in a chippy game that had 60 minutes in penalties, including Radko Gudas' 10-minute misconduct and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Stamkos.
Still, the bad overshadowed the good.
"We know we have to play a certain way to have results, especially against a top team like that," right wing B.J. Crombeen said. "We obviously didn't do that."
At least not enough.
First Period—1, Pittsburgh, Jokinen 8 (Morrow, Pa.Dupuis), 4:07. 2, Pittsburgh, Pa.Dupuis 20 (Kennedy, Niskanen), 6:02 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Purcell 9 (Stamkos, Salo), 16:00 (pp). Penalties—Labrie, TB (hooking), 4:30; Malkin, Pit (tripping), 15:38.
Second Period—4, Pittsburgh, Kunitz 21 (Iginla, Letang), 1:48 (pp). 5, Tampa Bay, Connolly 1 (Panik, Killorn), 5:46 (pp). Penalties—Malone, TB (high-sticking), 1:00; Bennett, Pit (hooking), 4:13; Niskanen, Pit (roughing), 5:59; St. Louis, TB (hooking), 12:24; Engelland, Pit (roughing), 20:00; Gudas, TB (roughing), 20:00.
Third Period—6, Pittsburgh, Malkin 8, 1:24. 7, Pittsburgh, Jokinen 9 (Murray, Pa.Dupuis), 4:45. 8, Pittsburgh, Glass 1 (Jokinen, Iginla), 16:40 (pp). 9, Tampa Bay, Purcell 10 (St. Louis, Carle), 19:42 (pp). Penalties—Engelland, Pit (roughing), 4:16; Malkin, Pit (cross-checking), 4:16; Gudas, TB, double minor (roughing), 4:16; Murray, Pit, minor-major (unsportsmanlike conduct, fighting), 5:19; Crombeen, TB, minor-major (roughing, fighting), 5:19; Orpik, Pit (roughing), 6:09; Malone, TB (roughing), 6:09; Stamkos, TB (unsportsmanlike conduct), 6:09; Gudas, TB, misconduct, 14:02; Aulie, TB (interference), 15:02; Thompson, TB (slashing), 16:00; Engelland, Pit (roughing), 18:30. Shots on Goal—Pittsburgh 13-14-14—41. Tampa Bay 8-7-4—19. Power-play opportunities—Pittsburgh 3 of 6; Tampa Bay 3 of 4. Goalies—Pittsburgh, Vokoun 11-4-0 (19 shots-16 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 10-8-0 (41-35). A—19,204 (19,204). T—2:36. Referees—Chris Rooney, Gord Dwyer. Linesmen—Darren Gibbs, Matt MacPherson.