TAMPA, Fla. – With stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin sidelined by injuries, the Pittsburgh Penguins are finding other players they can count on in the playoffs.
Old standby Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 25 shots and Tyler Kennedy—silent during the first two games of the post-season—stepped up offensively when the sputtering Penguins needed him most Monday night to score the winning goal in a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Maxime Talbot and Arron Asham also had goals for the Penguins, who took a 2-1 lead in their first-round Eastern Conference best-of-seven playoff series and regained home-ice advantage. Game 4 is Wednesday night in Tampa.
“It’s good to be ahead, but it’s still early and there’s still a lot to be played,” Fleury said.
Pittsburgh rebounded from a 5-1 home loss in Game 2 despite giving up two more power-play goals to Martin St. Louis. The Lightning star erased a 2-0 deficit by striking late in the opening period, then again early in the third to give Tampa Bay hope of taking control of the series.
But Kennedy answered with the go-ahead goal just 31 seconds later, scoring in heavy traffic from in front of goalie Dwayne Roloson after Pittsburgh won a faceoff in the left circle.
The source of the go-ahead goal was not surprising, considering Kennedy posted career highs of 21 goals, 24 assists and 45 points during the regular season while helping the Penguins learn how to win without their biggest offensive weapons.
“He’s added an offensive punch when we needed it, and he comes up with the game winner tonight. You’ve got to have some guys that will step up and score goals,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “Asham’s got two in the playoffs right now, and T.K.—like he has been doing for us in the last 30 games—steps up tonight and gets the game winner.”
Roloson yielded two goals in a span of 45 seconds of the first period, but the 41-year-old gave up little after that, finishing with 27 saves.
“He’s playing great,” Asham said of the Lightning goaltender, whose mid-season acquisition has been one of the keys to Tampa Bay’s resurgence following a three-year absence from the playoffs. “He’s been around a long time, and we’ve got to get some bodies in front of him—create some traffic—and our third goal was because of that. We had bodies around the net and T.K. battled and tucked it in for us.”
The Penguins have won six consecutive Game 3s and are 10-1 in the third game of playoff series dating to the 2008 post-season. Over the same stretch, Fleury is 12-4 following a playoff loss.
Talbot got the Penguins off to a fast start, scoring just seconds after Tampa Bay’s Brian Downie excited a sellout crowd with a hard hit on Ben Lovejoy, levelling the Pittsburgh defenceman behind the Lightning net—but not before Lovejoy got the puck to Talbot who quickly moved up ice to score at the other end.
Asham made it 2-0 just 45 seconds later, taking a perfect pass from Michael Rupp and tapping the puck into the left side of the net.
“To be able to get the lead, get the two goals, I think was big for us and big for our mindset,” Bylsma said.
After Tampa Bay scored twice on power plays in Game 2, Pittsburgh felt it was essential to stay out of the penalty box to minimize opportunities for the Lightning to make one of the NHL’s most effective power plays a factor again.
The Penguins felt they lacked discipline in Game 2, when they thought they allowed Tampa Bay to goad them into several costly penalties and go 2-for-6 on power-play opportunities. The Lightning were 2 of 4 on Monday night, with St. Louis scoring at 15:19 of the first period and again at 2:12 of the third.
“We knew they were going to come out hard,” St. Louis said. “We bounced back, dug ourselves back, but we gave it away. It’s tough. We would have liked to have played a tie game for a little bit.”
Notes: Crosby, out since early January with a concussion, had an off-ice workout, but didn’t take part in Thursday morning’s optional skate. “His workout regimen, the one he’s gone through over the last five days, continues to be all through the doctor,” Bylsma said. “There’s no change in his status.” … Lightning LW Ryan Malone left during the second period with an upper-body injury but returned. … The Lightning’s Steven Stamkos recorded the first playoff point of his career with an assist on St. Louis’ first goal. … Pittsburgh was 0 for 2 on the power play, dropping to 0 for 15 for the series.