PITTSBURGH — Count Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby among those who still believe the Lightning can make the playoffs.
It has been surprising to many that Tampa Bay entered Friday's rematch of last year's Eastern Conference final still fighting for its playoff life.
"I think they're still in this," Crosby said. "There's no quit."
But in handing the Lightning a 5-2 loss Friday, Pittsburgh continued to show how far Tampa Bay has to go. The Lightning got swept in the three-game season series and cost itself a chance to make up more ground in the playoff chase.
"We got beat by a good team," Lightning wing Jonathan Drouin said. "We're definitely still sour from last year, still sour when you lose to this team."
What made this loss especially salty was that a player the Lightning flipped to the Penguins at Wednesday's trade deadline came back to haunt it. Veteran defenseman Mark Streit, who was acquired from the Flyers for Valtteri Filppula and then shipped quickly to Pittsburgh, scored the winner early in the third period.
"We're happy to have him," Penguins star Evgeni Malkin said.
The Lightning is happy to have its main deadline acquisition, veteran goalie Peter Budaj, who had a stellar debut. Budaj, 34, part of Sunday's Ben Bishop deal to the Kings, had won his previous two starts against the Penguins, one in a shutout, and he gave Tampa Bay a chance to win Friday with 30 saves. His best highlight was back-to-back saves in the second, including one using his backside.
"He was exceptional," coach Jon Cooper said.
But the Lightning gave the Penguins too many chances. Tampa Bay paid dearly for its mistakes, whether it was bad line changes or turnovers. That turned what had been an even game toward Pittsburgh, which outshot the Lightning 14-2 at one point in the second period.
"I don't think we were skating," Drouin said. "In the first, we were getting pucks deep. It was hard for them to create offense that way. But we started turning it over in the neutral zone, and a team with that much speed and skill, they'll make you pay."
Special teams was a difference maker. The Penguins scored two power-play goals, and Streit's goal came on a 6-on-5 during a delayed Lightning penalty call.
"We just kept chasing the game," Cooper said. "Their power play ate us up here in the three games we've played them."
The Lightning (29-26-8) struck first, thanks to rookie wing Adam Erne's first career NHL goal.
"It was obviously exciting," he said.
Tampa Bay tied it at 2 in the opening minute of the third on a power-play goal by red-hot Nikita Kucherov, who extended his goal streak to five games. But on the next shift, the Penguins took the lead for good. With Crosby drawing attention on the right side, Streit pinched into a wide-open area and scored.
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"Ultimately our timing was bad," Cooper said.
The loss makes tonight's matchup in Buffalo pivotal, Cooper said. Friday's game was a measuring stick after a 7-2-1 stretch.
"You're going to play a team like that in the playoffs, if you get in," Drouin said. "Last year wasn't the way we wanted it to end. (Friday's) game was the same result."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—None. Penalties—Cole, PIT, (holding), 10:28.
Second Period—1, Tampa Bay, Erne 1 (Namestnikov, Paquette), 6:18. 2, Pittsburgh, Malkin 27 (Kessel, Schultz), 8:39 (pp). 3, Pittsburgh, Malkin 28 (Cole, Kessel), 16:49. Penalties—Hedman, TB, (tripping), 8:33; Kuhnhackl, PIT, (high sticking), 19:14.
Third Period—4, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 28 (Hedman, Drouin), 1:10 (pp). 5, Pittsburgh, Streit 6 (Crosby, Malkin), 2:38. 6, Pittsburgh, Schultz 10 (Crosby, Streit), 16:37 (pp). 7, Pittsburgh, Kuhnhackl 4 (Bonino), 19:00. Penalties—Namestnikov, TB, (holding), 4:09; Kuhnhackl, PIT, (tripping), 8:16; Sustr, TB, (hooking), 15:40. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 9-8-12—29. Pittsburgh 9-15-11—35. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 3; Pittsburgh 2 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Budaj 27-21-3 (34 shots-30 saves). Pittsburgh, Murray 24-8-3 (29-27).