Pittsburgh Penguins Drop Game Four Despite Comeback

Jan 15, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel (81) skates with the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 15, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel (81) skates with the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Penguins staged a last-minute comeback against the Tampa Bay Lightning but ultimately ran out of time. The series is now tied with two wins apiece as it shifts back to Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Penguins‘ Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, and Chris Kunitz scored goals in the third period, but it was too little, too late. The earlier offensive explosion of the Tampa Bay Lightning would prove to be just too much to come back from.

We expected a strong start from Tampa Bay in this game, but I’m not sure any of us thought that would mean only twenty seven seconds. Ryan Callahan deflected a Victor Hedman shot past Matt Murray to give the Bolts a very early lead.

Well. That’s not what we wanted.

Then Carl Hagelin took a tripping penalty and gave the Lightning a chance to build on that lead. The Pens had a solid shorthanded chance and killed it off, but right at the tail end of it the Lightning had several opportunities to score. A combination of puck luck and Murray’s skill somehow kept it out of what seemed like an empty net multiple times.

Tyler Johnson took a puck to the face during warmups and left the ice. He returned with some repairs and a full face cage, along with some determination to score. He had a near-breakaway against Murray as Kris Letang fell a step behind, but Johnson couldn’t convert.

The Penguins were still a couple steps behind at this point, but were beginning to get their feet back under them. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were paired up early for a bit of a boost.

The chaos of the game continued as Ondrej Palat hit Brian Dumoulin late and the Pittsburgh defender made his way to the bench with difficulty. Palat was the player who boarded Dumoulin in the first game of the series, and I guess he’s got some unfinished business. As Dumoulin was trying to get off, the Penguins were caught with too many men on the ice and Phil Kessel was sent to the box to serve the penalty.

The good news: the Penguins killed the penalty and, unlike in that first game, Dumoulin returned to the bench quickly.

Both goalies looked strong following that initial goal. Murray made some impressive saves on Bolts players while Andrei Vasilevskiy blanked the Penguins.

…although I may have spoken too soon. Right as I was typing that Andrej Sustr and Nikita Kucherov teamed up to execute a nifty passing play and give the Lightning a 2-0 lead. Kucherov passed through a few Penguins directly to Sustr’s stick, and the receiver made no mistakes elevating the puck past Murray.

Chris Kunitz and J.T. Brown were called with matching roughing minors to end the period in a four-on-four. The Penguins had a few good chances, in part thanks to Crosby, but nothing came of it. In fact, the only thing of note was pretty bad – Murray went out to play the puck behind his net and Dumoulin ran into him. 

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It looked like a shoulder hit and Murray went down, but luckily the period had ended. That’s a pretty good allegory for the game up to this point, and was something you wouldn’t have expected from the Penguins after their strong game three. Murray also fell a little awkwardly on his knee, which isn’t something you want to see.

Murray returned to start the second period.

The Penguins finally got a chance to even things up when Kucherov took a penalty for boarding Ian Cole. The powerplay was, well, not great, to say the least. The Pens definitely had chances, but did a lot of their same old “let’s pass one too many times instead of shooting” thing.

They got another chance just a few moments later as Jonathan Drouin was caught holding Nick Bonino. The powerplay looked a little better this time, especially Carl Hagelin. However, nothing came out of this advantage either.

Things only continued to get worse. Trevor Daley was seriously injured after being sandwiched between Callahan and the boards after chasing down the puck, and couldn’t even stand up on his own. He tried valiantly a few times before he could get a whistle, but never could do it. It looked like a knee injury, based on his body language following the stoppage of play, but more than anything – it just looked bad.

To be fair, Callahan didn’t do anything dirty to cause it. But following his original hit on Letang and early goal tonight, I’m just a bit fed up with him.

Following Daley’s injury, two separate scrums erupted on the ice. Not too surprisingly, Kris Letang was in the center of both. The Lightning would get a few extra powerplays out of the sequence, as they were originally biding their time on a delayed penalty call when Daley got hurt.

When the dust cleared, Brian Boyle was in the box for roughing, while Matt Cullen picked up the original penalty for holding and Letang got two separate minors for roughing and cross-checking. The Bolts received a four-minute powerplay for Letang’s wrongdoings rather than having someone else serve the second penalty as a five-on-three.

Jonathan Drouin scored midway into the second part of the powerplay, getting his own rebound and putting it past Murray. That is one thing that both these goalies have struggled with – they each give up a lot of rebounds.

Alex Killorn tripped Evgeni Malkin soon after that third goal and gave the Pens’ powerplay a chance to step up and respond. Of course they didn’t, and they also allowed a shorthanded chance, but I mean at least they had the chance.

That lethal “Triplets Line” widened the gap soon after, teaming up to get Johnson his sixth goal of the postseason. Tampa really needed to come out strong tonight, and they did just that. (Granted, the Penguins did help them out by completely imploding and hurting themselves more than anything else.)

The Penguins decided to switch things up to start the third period, giving Marc-Andre Fleury his first glimpse of playoff action this year. Fleury didn’t show any signs of rust, making great saves reminiscent of his pre-injury play. Then, Phil Kessel finally got the Pens on the board.

The comeback was in motion. Evgeni Malkin finally broke his scoring drought to bring the Penguins back within two. Then the Penguins got another powerplay as Killorn tripped Letang.

I know, I can’t really believe that Letang drew a penalty instead of taking one, either. The tables had really turned in a surprising way. Need more proof? The Penguins actually scored on the ensuing powerplay, thanks to Justin SchultzConor Sheary and Chris Kunitz.

Alas, it would be too little, too late. Despite their late comeback the Penguins would fall 4-3. Still, that’s a lot better than a 4-0 shutout. Though the series would have been tied 2-2 regardless, this outcome is a lot more heartening.

Some immediate thoughts: Kris Letang needs to settle down. Seriously. Playing with passion is awesome and their high level of energy is a big part of the Pens’ game, but there’s a fine line between that and just losing your mind. We’ve seen it over and over: he just needs to chill out, frankly.

Now that we’ve seen Fleury for a period of postseason action, and seen how the Pens respond to his presence, I’d keep him in for game five. He played very well and kept the Penguins in it for their comeback attempt. Murray’s looked a little shaky this series anyway; may as well give Fleury his turn.

Related Story: Pittsburgh Penguins: Are Two Goalies Better than One?

Both teams have managed to win one at home and one away so far. That makes a Penguins victory in Pittsburgh all the more important for game five. They bounced back well in the third period, but it’s always better to be in a position where you don’t have to chase. Like the Bolts did tonight, the Penguins will need to come out very strong on Sunday.