Stanley Cup Recap: Penguins Keep It Simple, Take 2-1 Series Lead over Lightning

Phil Kessel scored a goal and assisted on another to help lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Stanley Cup Playoff action. (Photo: penguins.nhl.com)

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Tampa Bay Lightning

The Pittsburgh Penguins scored three goals in the third period on their way to a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals.

Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin each scored a goal and an assist to lead the Penguins to the victory. Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray stopped 26 shots. His counterpart, Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 44 shots.

“I think we played a pretty simple game,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said after his team’s win. “We’ve just tried to keep it as simple as we can, be strong on the puck and it’s worked for us.”

There was plenty of action in the first period but neither club could put the puck in the back of the net as Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy made 10 saves and Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray stopped 12 shots.

The second period belonged to the Penguins. They held the advantage in every facet of the game, especially in shots on goal. Pittsburgh reeled off 21 shots compared to Tampa Bay’s six shots.

The Penguins also took the lead on the scoreboard when Carl Hagelin scored with 10 seconds remaining in the period. Phil Kessel took advantage of a Tampa Bay neutral zone turnover and raced into the Lightning zone on the right wing. He took a quick look to the middle of the ice then put a shot at Vasilevskiy’s pads with the intent being that the goaltender would stop the shot and the rebound would land on Hagelin’s stick. That’s exactly how the play happened and Bonino swept the disc into the open side of the net giving Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead.

The third period saw the Pittsburgh offense kick it into overdrive.

Kessel began the barrage at the 5:16 mark of the frame after Hagelin sent the puck behind the net to linemate Nick Bonino. Bonino skated left to right toward the back of the net and sent a perfect pass behind himself onto Kessel’s stick. Kessel put a wrist shot over Vasilevskiy’s glove and Pittsburgh had a 2-0 lead.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the Triplets line of Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat and they responded by getting Tampa Bay a much-needed goal just 14 seconds after the Kessel goal.

Kucherov accepted a pass from Palat in the middle of the neutral zone and carried the puck into the Penguins zone. He spotted Johnson cutting behind him and left a drop pass for Johnson, who fired a shot between Vasilevskiy’s pads cutting Pittsburgh’s lead to 2-1.

Sidney Crosby gave his club a 3-1 lead with a five-on-three power play goal 10:50 into the period. After the Penguins moved the puck around the Lightning zone with smart passing, Justin Schultz put a pass onto the stick of Evgeni Malkin at the center point. Malkin played pitch and catch with Crosby, who was at the dot in the right faceoff circle. On Malkin’s second pass, Crosby unleashed a one-time slap shot that beat Vasilevskiy over the goaltender’s glove hand. It was Crosby’s second goal in as many games and would prove to be his second game-winning goal in two games as well.

Chris Kunitz would expand Pittsburgh’s lead to 4-1 with 6:48 to play in the third period after attacking the Tampa Bay zone with Malkin on a two-on-one rush. Malkin carried the puck into the zone on the right side of the ice and made a cross-crease pass to Kunitz. Kunitz sent a shot at Vasilevskiy and the netminder made the save but a Lightning player swept the rebound to the right of the net onto Kunitz’s stick and the Penguin winger put a wrist shot off Vasilevskiy’s outstretched pad and into the back of the goal.

Palat would make it a 4-2 game with 1:44 remaining in the third period but that would be as close as the Lightning would come on the scoreboard.

Game 4 will be played Friday, May 20th at Tampa’s Amalie Arena (8:00 pm ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Stat of the Night:

When the teams are tied 1-1 in a best-of-seven series, the winner of Game 3 has an all-time series record of 200-97 (67.3%).

Series Notes:

Three active players have averaged more than one point per game in their playoff careers (minimum 20 games played): Sidney Crosby – 1.15 points; Evgeni Malkin – 1.06 points; Phil Kessel – 1.03 points.

Andrei Vasilevskiy’s 44 saves in Game 3 were the most by a Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender in a regulation Stanley Cup playoff game.

Thursday’s Stanley Cup Playoff Schedule:

Game 3 – Western Conference Finals – St. Louis Blues at San Jose Sharks (9:00 pm ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1.

Follow ESPN New Hampshire’s NHL Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter @ShawnHutcheon.

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