After dropping a tough loss in Detroit on Thursday, the Pittsburgh Penguins rebounded Saturday afternoon, and beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in an overtime thriller.
And from the drop of the puck, this game was a good one.
In the first stanza of the matinée, a lot of back-and-forth action occurred. Early on in the period, the Penguins got a power play chance when Pittsburgh native and ex-player Ryan Malone took a penalty. The Pens’ first unit didn’t account for much, aside from the fancy passing, they struggled to enter the zone and set up. The second half of the power play was dominated by the second unit, with defenseman Olli Maatta taking most of the shots and creating decent chances. By the end of the man-advantage, the Pens’ had four shots on the board, but failed to put up much else.
The rest of the period was dominated by the Lightning, who created eight shots on Pens’ netminder Jeff Zatkoff. Most of those shots were quality attempts too, one being an open net miss by Lightning’ forward Steven Stamkos on the doorstep.
The Pens’ finished the period with three giveaways, and had as many hits as Tampa Bay (7). Other than that, most of the period was spent as a ping-pong match in the neutral zone.
The action picked up a little in the second with the Penguins out shooting the Bolts 13-8, granted though, most the Pens’ shots came via three power play chances. One of those man-advantages cultivated the first goal of the game.
The Pens’ first power play unit took charge at the 5:29-mark, when Zatkoff set the puck up for forward Evgeni Malkin, who galloped end-to-end, beat two Tampa Bay’ players and fed the biscuit to a wide open Sidney Crosby for a one-timer.
This was a good sign for Pittsburgh, who are 32-3-1 when opening the scoring of a game. Yet, amongst some strange penalty calls going both ways, the Lightning ended up with a short power play themselves, and they capitalized. At the 16:44-mark, Stamkos faked a shot and made a nice cross-ice pass to forward Valtteri Filppula, who found space between Zatkoff’s pads and the post for a goal.
The hits were minimal this period for the Pens, while the Bolts continued to take the body, posting eight hits to the Pens’ four. The two teams went into the final 20-minutes with a new game at a 1-1 tie.
The tenacity reached its peak in the third period, and so did the turnovers, as if the CEC was having a bake sale.
A Pens’ turnover at the 8:17-mark found Stamkos picking up the garbage in front of Zatkoff, and putting it in the back of the net to make it a 2-1 Lightning advantage. Another penalty by Tampa Bay gave Pittsburgh another power play, this time, Malkin is the one who made them pay.
Crosby made a nice pass from behind the net with players collapsing on him to defenseman Matt Niskanen, who in turn took a hard shot on net. Niskanen’s shot generated a juicy rebound for Malkin, who made no mistake, burying it behind the Bolt’s netminder Anders Lindback.
At the 16:43-mark, the Pens’ capitalized on a turnover by the Lightning.
Jussi Jokinen picked off a Tampa Bay outlet pass at the blue line, and quickly moved it down to Malkin, who was standing alone in front of the net. Malkin took the pass and quickly fired a rolling puck on his backhand over the short side of Lindback, making the it a 3-2 Pens’ lead.
The Bolts kept battling and made two quick passes that fed rookie sensation forward Ondrej Palat. Palat used his speed through the neutral zone and entered the zone unscathed while he undressed Maatta for a quick shot past Zatkoff to tie the game.
The third period proved to be close in shots, hits, and of course, turnovers.
The overtime period came and went quickly when the Bolts took a too many men penalty on a band change. This proved to be costly, as Pittsburgh sent four forwards for the power play, that included Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Malkin and James Neal.
The Pens’ quickly worked the puck around from Crosby-to-Malkin-to-Neal, who shot a fluttering one-timer far side past Lindback, who had to come all the way across his crease.
One shot, one goal, ended the game, giving Pittsburgh the two points. And Malkin, who had a team-high four points (2G, 2A), was easily the squad’s best player.
The game started off slow with both teams playing like it was chess match. Everything they did was very methodical, which to the average fan makes for a boring game to watch.
However, for a coach, it was a lot of fun to see the individual match-ups, and what each bench boss was trying to do. Along came the second period and that all went out the window. Evgeni Malkin played like man on a mission and just took this game over. Everything he’s been doing finally paid off.
Sidney Crosby was also playing like a man who had something to prove.
Crosby made it nearly impossible for the Lightning’ defenders to take the puck off of him, while he continuously forced turnovers by finishing checks and relentlessly pursuing pucks. Despite only having two shots, Neal buried it when it counted. Neal made his presence felt the whole game though, even if he wasn’t shooting, because he was making space for Malkin.
The star power was in full effect in Saturday’s game, and that’s what needed coming down the stretch run of the season and into the playoffs.
The hot topic though was the Pens’ power play, which has been struggling recently, went three-for-six. Although Pittsburgh took some penalties, it was nice to see that they weren’t undisciplined sin-bins. The star power that the Penguins have will draw penalties nearly every game, so, it’s important they stay controlled. And when they are clicking at a 50-percent rate like they did today, giving up a power play goal can be overlooked.
Bylsma made some adjustments with the defensive parings ,which seemed to help overall. However, it will take a couple practices to get used to each other. Then, hopefully the D-zone coverage will tighten up.
As long as the power play units consistently play like they did today and produce numbers, Pittsburgh will be tough in the playoffs.
Let’s all see if they can catapult today’s play into tomorrow’s.
Sunday’s afternoon tilt with the St. Louis Blues can be seen on the NHL and ROOT Networks, and is set to start at 1 p.m.
For an early jump on Pittsburgh Penguins playoff tickets always check out TiqIQ.com
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