TAMPA — Zenon Konopka said Saturday was just another day. Yes, it was his birthday. But really, the Lightning center insisted, no big deal.
It was tough to take Konopka seriously, though, with his hair covered in celebratory birthday shaving cream and his voice breathless describing how it felt to score the winner in Tampa Bay's 3-1 win over the Stanley Cup champion Penguins before an announced sellout of 20,109 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"It's awesome," he said of scoring the day he turned 29.
"To have a win like this and to beat a team like this is a big steppingstone for our team."
It certainly reinforced a pretty good run as Tampa Bay (16-15-10) finished a 3-1-1 homestand and has gone 5-1-1 in its past seven games.
The team used a formula it has found elusive. It came out hard (Marty St. Louis scored 1:03 into the game), kept the pressure on (it had 20 second-period shots and outshot Pittsburgh 37-26) and got timely goals.
Konopka's second of the season, with 5:34 left in the second period, broke a 1-1 tie. And Steve Downie's, 7:11 into the third, came soon after Vinny Lecavalier's missed penalty shot.
"For Downs to get that goal was huge," coach Rick Tocchet said.
"It protects you from an individual effort or some kind of fluky goal."
As did a solid penalty kill that was 4-for-4 and is on a 15-for-15 run. A swarming defense, led by Mattias Ohlund, who had two assists and was plus-3, held Evgeni Malkin to one shot. And goaltender Mike Smith made 25 saves to win for the fourth time in six games and give Pittsburgh a fourth straight loss.
"We knew that was a hungry team," St. Louis said. "They're a good team. I felt like we weren't going to let them be the good team that they are."
Said Smith: "We should feel very proud of ourselves."
And Konopka should feel validated after criticizing the team after a 5-2 loss to the Flyers on Dec. 23. Since then, the Lightning is 3-0-1.
"I think it was the truth, and the truth needed to come out," Konopka said. "We all had to look in the mirror, including myself. What could we bring more of? Don't be content. … We need to keep on each other and keep consequences to actions."
Tocchet said Konopka showed "huge leadership" by speaking up: "He's not afraid to say his piece. When he sees some guys who are getting a lot of ice time not pulling their weight, he's going to tell them, and I have no problem with that."
"He steps up," Smith said. "Maybe guys don't want to hear what he wants to say, but he says it anyway. Sometimes, it's hard for people to hear the truth, but he speaks from the heart."
Punctuated with a huge goal on just another day.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 9 (Ohlund, Stamkos), 1:03. 2, Pittsburgh, Guerin 13 (Staal, McKee), 17:15. Penalties—Skoula, Pit (broken stick), 6:57; Lecavalier, TB (holding), 17:57.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Konopka 2 (Downie, Stamkos), 14:26. Penalties—Malone, TB (holding stick), 8:23; Smaby, TB (cross-checking), 10:24; Letang, Pit (cross-checking), 17:54.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Downie 8 (Ohlund, Lecavalier), 7:11. Penalties—Cooke, Pit (unsportsmanlike conduct), 3:26; Konopka, TB (unsportsmanlike conduct), 3:26; Staal, Pit (boarding), 7:49; Foster, TB (holding), 8:05; Crosby, Pit (cross-checking), 17:54. Missed Penalty Shot—Lecavalier, TB, 4:44 third. Shots on Goal—Pittsburgh 9-10-7—26. Tampa Bay 6-20-11—37. Power-play opportunities—Pittsburgh 0 of 4; Tampa Bay 0 of 4. Goalies—Pittsburgh, Fleury 22-12-1 (37 shots-34 saves). Tampa Bay, M.Smith 9-10-6 (26-25). A—20,109 (19,758).T—2:21. Referees—Chris Lee, Dan O'Halloran. Linesmen—Brad Kovachik, Brian Mach.