TAMPA—The Lightning got its scoring touch back on Saturday. Tampa Bay tallied five goals for the second time in the last 10 games on the way to a 5-4 win over Pittsburgh, a potential first-round opponent.
The Lightning had been in (relative) a scoring drought. After averaging four goals a game through 44 games, Tampa Bay was down to two in the previous nine games (1.6 without the outlier of a six-goal win over San Jose).
Twice in the past four games, the Lightning had been held scoreless (Tampa Bay beat the Islanders in a shootout on Feb. 1 but did not score in 65 minutes of play).
Saturday morning, coach Jon Cooper reiterated that he wasn’t worried. He knew the Lightning had been scoring at a hard-to-sustain pace, and went over the previous statistics and success with players to try to boost confidence.
“It’s just that they’re not used to not scoring, so it happens for a couple days and the guys get a little rattled,” he said, “but I’m not worried.”
The Lightning achieved the goal of getting back to a shot mentality. After 14 shot attempts in the first period on Thursday, the Lightning had 26, and 19 on net, in the first Saturday.
“We talked about it before the net, we wanted to get puck to the net and get the goalie’s eyes,” Anthony Cirelli said. “We did that tonight and it paid off for us.”
Cooper also pointed to the defensive efforts of limiting goals against. After allowing 2.9 a game through the first 49 games, the Lightning was down to 1.5 in the last four games.
The Lightning didn’t quite reach that middle ground Cooper referred to looking for on Saturday, though. It seems that the high-scoring games come with a high goals against as well. Tampa Bay gave up four to Pittsburgh.
Depth scoring was one of the key factors that powered the Lightning to the top of the league. And it was an element in Saturday’s win.
Tyler Johnson hadn’t scored in 14 games. Anthony Cirelli last scored Dec. 13. Yanni Gourde scored his third in the last 16 games. Erik Cernak had his second in his 32 NHL games. J.T. Miller had his second in 12 games (the last one coming a week ago at Pittsburgh).
This so-called drought was ended by the Lightning’s scoring leaders.
“That’s our team,” Johnson said. “We feel regardless of who you are in our lineup, youre able to score goals. It kind of dried up a bit but it’s good to have it back.”
The Penguins scored first, Garrett Wilson and Teddy Blueger had a two-on-one and got around Victor Hedman, then Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Gourde responded 86 seconds later. He and Brayden Point had a two-on-none, with a step on two Penguins. Gourde beat Casey DeSmith to tie the game up 1-1. Cernak put the Lightning on top 57 seconds after that, with a shot from the point. The goal was his second career goal, the first came against the Rangers a week ago.
Cirelli gave the Lightning a brief two-goal lead at 7:42 of the second period on a shorthanded breakaway. Jared McCann brought the Penguins back within one 49 seconds later, with a shot from above the outside hashmarks.
Bryan Rust tied the game up with about five minutes left in the second period. Jake Guentzel’s wraparound attempt was wide and Rust scored from the opposite post.
The Lightning added two more in the third period. First, Johnson beat DeSmith top shelf with a nice wrist shot, and a smooth assist from Ondrej Palat five minutes into the period. Miller added also went top shelf with six minutes to play.
Tanner Pearson got one back for the Penguins with 4:38 to play, but the Lightning had the insurance goal to make the difference.