By: Nick Lanciani
The Tampa Bay Lightning were victorious on road ice in Game 1 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 at CONSOL Energy Center on Friday night.
Andrei Vasilevskiy made 25 saves on 26 shots faced for a .962 SV% in 46:55 TOI in the win, while Matt Murray made just 17 saves for the Penguins on 20 shots faced for a .850 SV% in the loss. Ben Bishop played just 12:25, made 9 saves on 9 shots against and left the game with an injury in the first period.
Ryan Callahan took a five-minute major penalty for boarding Penguins defenseman, Kris Letang, almost three minutes into the first period. Letang remained down on the ice briefly, before being helped up by the Penguins training staff and skating off on his own power and walking to the locker room. He would return later in the first period.
Ben Bishop went down with a lower body injury a little over twelve minutes into the first period after trying to handle the puck in the trapezoid. Bishop skated to reach the puck, mishandled it and quickly tried to get back into position in the crease. He awkwardly extended his left leg and fell backward as the puck skipped by and the refs blew the whistle for the Lightning athletic training staff to tend to his injury. Bishop suffered a similar lower body injury in last year’s Stanley Cup Final.
Bishop was stretchered off the ice and transported to a local hospital for further evaluation. Anredi Vasilevskiy replaced Bishop in goal and Kristers Gudlevskis soon worked his way to the Tampa bench in the second period to serve as the Lightning’s backup in case Vasilevskiy went down.
Alex Killorn kicked off the scoring for the Lightning when he sent a backhand past Matt Murray on a breakaway for the 1-0 lead. Killorn’s goal was his 4th of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and was assisted by Victor Hedman (6) at 18:46 of the first period.
Tyler Johnson was injured on a hit along the boards late in the first period and appeared to have suffered a lower body injury, if not at least a leg or knee injury. He returned to Tampa’s bench in the second period.
After twenty minutes of play the Bolts led 1-0 on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh led in shots on goal (10-6) and faceoff wins (9-7) after the first period and Tampa led in hits (16-14) and blocked shots (6-4), while both teams recorded two giveaways and three takeaways each. The Lightning had yet to see the man advantage after one and the Penguins were 0/1 on the power play through twenty minutes of play.
Evgeni Malkin hooked Victor Hedman just 1:46 into the second period and was sent to the penalty box for a minor infraction, giving Tampa their first power play opportunity of the night. The Lightning went right to work on the man advantage and peppered Murray with a couple of decent chances.
Valtteri Filppula found Ondrej Palat as he was crashing the net on a rebound. Palat backhanded the puck while he was falling past an out of position Murray for his 3rd goal of the postseason. Filppula (4) and Jason Garrison (5) picked up the assists on the power play goal that was scored at 2:33 of the second period.
With a 2-0 lead the Lightning set into a rhythm.
Nikita Nesterov gave Pittsburgh a power play after hooking Conor Sheary at 7:50 of the second period. The Penguins were unable to convert on the man advantage. Likewise the Bolts were unable to convert on their man advantage three minutes later when Matt Cullen tripped Hedman.
At 18:25 of the second period, Jonathan Drouin potted his 2nd goal of the playoffs on a one timer from Palat as the Lightning entered the offensive zone on a 3-on-1 rush. Palat (3) and Filppula (5) notched the assists on Drouin’s goal that made it 3-0 Tampa Bay.
A mere 24 seconds later, Hedman tripped Sheary and set the Penguins up with another power play. This time, Patric Hornqvist fired a shot past Vasilevskiy and Pittsburgh scored six seconds into the power play, thus ending the shutout bid for Vasilevskiy and cutting the Lightning’s lead to two. The goal read as Hornqvist’s 6th of the postseason, assisted by Sidney Crosby (8) and Phil Kessel (8) at 19:05 of the 2nd.
Tampa Bay still went into the second intermission with a 3-1 lead on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh continued to lead in shots on goal (19-15) and faceoff wins (26-10), while the Lightning led in hits (28-24) and blocked shots (15-9). Both teams had three giveaways and three takeaways each. The Bolts were 1/2 on the power play and the Pens were 1/3 on the man advantage after forty minutes of play.
With the exception of shots on goal and lots of saves, not much happened in the third period. There was no more scoring in the game and only a couple more penalties distributed.
Ondrej Palat drilled Brian Dumoulin into the boards face first 15:14 into the third period and received a two-minute minor penalty for boarding, as Dumoulin took some time to gather himself and be helped off the ice by his teammates, Nick Bonino and Kris Letang. Penguins fans were not pleased and it was the fourth time in the night that a player required extra time to recover from a potential injury on a play in the game.
With less than three minutes to go, Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan, called for Murray to vacate the goal in exchange for an extra attacker in a last ditch effort for Pittsburgh to try to tie the game and at least force overtime, if not score three goals to win it before the end of regulation.
But the extra skater was to no avail as the Penguins iced the puck a couple of times, forcing Matt Murray back into the goal, and the Lightning held off the Pittsburgh offense.
Hornqvist took one last penalty as time expired for cross checking Matt Carle at 20:00 of the third.
The Penguins finished the night leading in shots on goal (35-20), faceoff wins (35-23) and giveaways (9-4). The Lightning had not only won the game 3-1, but had also ended the night with an advantage in hits (40-31), takeaways (6-4) and blocked shots (20-10). Tampa finished the night 1/2 on the power play and Pittsburgh finished the night 1/4.
This is the Penguins first visit back to the Eastern Conference Final since 2013 when they were swept by the Boston Bruins. The Lightning are making their second appearance in a row in the Eastern Conference Final, having defeated the New York Rangers last year in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final en route to an unsuccessful Stanley Cup Final run against the Chicago Blackhawks.
In other news and notes…
Heading into Game 1 the Tampa Bay Lightning had not lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the regular season in all three occasions. The Lightning had scored at least four or more goals in each of their wins against Pittsburgh, with their most recent victory having been a 4-2 win at CONSOL Energy Center on February 20th.
Game 1 marked the fourth time in the past 35 years in which both goalies were 21 years old or younger, as noted by Elias Sports. A 20-year-old, Tom Barrasso, of the Buffalo Sabres faced a 21-year-old, Mario Gosselin, of the Québec Nordiques in the 1985 Division Semifinals, while Bill Ranford of the Boston Bruins and Patrick Roy of the Montréal Canadiens squared off as 19 and 20 year olds and then 20 and 21 year olds, respectively in the 1986 and the 1987 Division Semifinals prior to last night’s 21-year-old matchup of Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Sidney Crosby’s assist was his 83rd career playoff assist and moved him past Jaromir Jagr (82 assists) for sole possession of the second most playoff assists in Penguins franchise history.
Tampa Bay now has a 1-0 series lead heading into Game 2 on Monday night in Pittsburgh. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:00 PM ET and the game will be televised on NBCSN in the United States and CBC and TVA Sports in Canada.