PITTSBURGH — One by one, Lightning players critiqued Wednesday night's 3-0 loss to the Penguins at the Consol Energy Center.
One by one, they came to the same conclusion.
"We dug ourselves a hole with too many penalties," center Steven Stamkos said. "We gave them momentum, and in the playoffs, that's something you thrive on."
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal had more to it, of course. The Lightning ran into super-hot goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who earned his fifth playoff shutout with 32 saves and kept his team in the game early when Tampa Bay had all kinds of scoring chances.
Pittsburgh got goals by Alex Kovalev and Arron Asham in 18 seconds to take a 2-0 lead 6:23 into the third period, and before Chris Kunitz scored an empty-net goal with 42 seconds left, Marty St. Louis and Stamkos missed shots at open nets.
But for Lightning players and coach Guy Boucher, Tampa Bay mostly did itself in by spending way too much time in the penalty box. Pittsburgh had six power plays for 9 minutes, 32 seconds, with the extra man.
The Penguins did not convert, but they clearly gained the initiative and ended with a 40-32 shot advantage, including 30-18 in the second and third periods.
"We lost momentum," Boucher said. "A lot of my offensive players didn't get on the ice because we were in the penalty box. We're a pressure team. We put a lot of pucks on net. To do that, we've got to be five-on-five or on the power play."
Instead, the Lightning had just one power play, though it could have had several others, including a five-minute major when Pittsburgh's Zbynek Michalek bloodied Marty St. Louis' mouth and loosened two teeth with a high stick that referee Wes McCauley looked at but did not call. (St. Louis had a double root canal after the game.)
"I'm never surprised by anything," Boucher said. "You have some games like that and have some others you hope will be the opposite."
The key penalty came 3:13 into the second period, when Steve Downie was called for hooking. It really wasn't hooking at all but a smart play by Pittsburgh's James Neal to chicken-wing Downie's stick and fool referee Eric Furlatt into making a call.
Tampa Bay goalie Dwayne Roloson, with 37 saves, was terrific on the power play as Pittsburgh peppered him with six shots. Still, the damage was done.
"That's when the momentum changed, when we had that power play," Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "We didn't get the goal, but we got the momentum. Since then, we were the better team out there."
"You could hear the crowd get into it," Stamkos said. "You knew the tide was changing."
It was a great lesson for a team with nine players who had never been in a playoff game.
"We've got to be a little more disciplined with our stick penalties in the neutral zone and the offensive zone," captain Vinny Lecavalier said.
"I put myself in a situation where it can be called," Downie said of his critical penalty, "and that's what we're trying to get away from. We put ourselves in situations where we can be called, and we got caught."