Pittsburgh Penguins vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay held a 4-0 lead after two periods but was forced to survive a rejuvenated Penguins offensive assault in the third period, to emerge with a 4-3 win over Pittsburgh in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The best-of-seven series is tied 2-2.
“Guys didn’t panic,” said Tampa Bay defenseman Andrej Sustr. “We did a good job of closing it (Game 4) out.”
Ryan Callahan began the scoring for the Lightning and he struck early. After battling for a loose puck behind the Penguins net, he lost his balance, regained it then went to the front of the net as the puck landed on JT Brown’s stick in the right corner. Brown passed the disc to Victor Hedman at the left point. Hedman unleashed a slap shot at the Pittsburgh net. Callahan reached out and got his stick on the shot and deflected it past Penguins goaltender Matt Murray just 27 seconds into the game.
Sustr gave Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead at the 14:28 mark of the first period. The Lightning entered the Penguins zone on the left wing. Alex Killorn carried the puck into the zone and left a drop pass for Nikita Kucherov just inside the line. Kucherov moved deeper into the zone and put a pass onto Sustr’s stick as he raced to the net on the right wing. Sustr redirected the pass into the open side of the net for his first goal of the playoffs.
Tampa Bay continued to dominate throughout the second period and took hold of the game on the scoreboard when Jonathan Drouin gave the Lightning a 3-0 lead with a power play goal 14:38 into the period. Hedman had the puck at the right point, he spotted Drouin standing unattended at the left post and threaded a pass to him. Drouin attempted to pass across the crease to Ondrej Palat but it was blocked and went back to Drouin, who deposited a wrist shot over Murray’s outstretched pad and into the goal.
Tyler Johnson, who was hit in the face with a puck during pregame warmups and played with a full face shield to guard against the injury worsening, scored Tampa Bay’s fourth goal of the game 3:10 after Drouin’s goal. Kucherov skated the puck into the Pittsburgh zone on the left side of the ice, passed it back to Killorn, who quickly passed it back to Kucherov. The speedy Russian sent a cross-crease pass to Johnson, who redirected the disc behind Murray and the Lightning had a commanding 4-0 lead heading into the third period, which is when things got interesting.
Marc-Andre Fleury skated to Pittsburgh’s crease at the start of the third period replacing Murray, who had seen 30 shots in two periods with four eluding him.
Phil Kessel broke the shutout with his eighth goal of the postseason at 1:18. He gathered a pass from Nick Bonino in the neutral zone and let a wrist shot go from the top of the right faceoff circle that beat Vasilevskiy low to the blocker side and the Penguins trailed 4-1.
Evgeni Malkin made it a 4-2 game at 11:13 when he cut into the high slot from the right wing and put a wrist shot over Vasilevskiy’s blocker. It was Malkin’s fourth lamplighter of the playoffs.
The Penguins were not done and cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 4-3 with a power play goal off the stick of Chris Kunitz at 13:08. Letang, standing at the right point, gathered a pass. He sent the puck over to the top of the left circle onto Conor Sheary’s stick. Sheary sent a shot at the net but Vasilevskiy stopped it. The rebound went to Kunitz and the winger put a shot high into the net.
In the final 1:25, the Penguins pressed for the tying goal but Tampa Bay shut off the shooting lanes in textbook fashion and held on for the win.
“It’s hard to chase a 4-goal deficit,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the contest. “We didn’t play the way we’ve been playing. We responded in the 3rd (period), but it’s not enough time.”
Game 5 is scheduled for Sunday, May 22nd at Pittsburgh’s Console Energy Center at 8:00 pm ET (NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports)
Stat of the Night:
When teams are tied 2-2 in a best-of-seven series, the winner of Game 5 has an all-time series record of 290-81 (78.2%)
Ryan Callahan’s Game 4 goal was the second-fastest goal to begin a game in Tampa Bay Lightning history.
Tyler Johnson’s Game 4 winning goal was the sixth of his playoff career. He is third in Tampa Bay franchise history (Brad Richards – 7, Martin St. Louis – 8).
Victor Hedman garnered two assists in Game 4. He has 30 career playoff assists, passing Vincent Lecavalier (28), and Brad Richards (29), for second in Lightning history.
Tampa Bay’s Jonathan Drouin has posted 4 goals, 8 assists, 12 points in the 2016 playoffs, compared to 4 goals, 6 assists, 10 points in the 2015-16 regular season.
Saturday’s Stanley Cup Schedule:
Game 4 – Western Conference Finals – St. Louis Blues at San Jose Sharks (7:15 pm ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). San Jose leads the best-of-seven series 2-1.
Follow ESPN New Hampshire’s NHL Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.