For the second time in five days, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning will meet up on Thursday night in Tampa, Fla.
The matchup of Eastern Conference foes will be the final one of the regular season.
The Lightning hope that the outcome is better than Sunday’s 7-3 setback.
In that one with backup goaltender Brian Elliott in net, the Lightning clung to a tenuous 2-1 lead in the second period. But the dam soon burst in western Pennsylvania, as the Penguins struck for five goals in just 4:27 en route to the blowout.
Unfortunately for coach Jon Cooper’s Lightning, the result was no better at the start of their two-game homestand Tuesday.
Despite playing without top centers Aleksander Barkov and Sam Bennett, the Florida Panthers — desperate for points in the wild-card standings — dominated Tampa Bay with a three-goal first period and beat the home side 4-1.
It was a night that totally belonged to the Sunshine State rival Panthers, as the Lightning lost in regulation on home ice for the first time since Dec. 6.
Tampa Bay held a 4-2 shot advantage through the match’s first 4:39 but didn’t record another one in the opening frame. Over the period’s final 14 shots, Florida reeled off three goals.
It was that kind of night for Cooper’s group, which is in a rough patch of bad hockey after losing two straight. Tampa Bay is 2-3-2 in its past seven outings.
In its past four games, the Lightning have played teams vying for wild-card berths.
“Clearly, we’re not playing with the same desperation as our opponents are,” Cooper said. “It’s a competitive league. The margin of winning and losing is so fine. Desperation and will and want, that’s a big part of it.
Added the coach: “We’re getting outplayed. Every game we’re getting outplayed. … Our formula hasn’t changed, our game plan hasn’t changed.”
Meanwhile, the Penguins, who hold the East’s second wild-card spot, have won the first two meetings with Tampa Bay — 6-2 in Pittsburgh on Oct. 15 and on Sunday.
A sweep of the three-game season series would be just what Pittsburgh needs as it seeks to secure postseason play.
In Tuesday’s 3-1 road win over the Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh allowed just three shots in the third period.
“I think we’d still like to limit the chances against and make sure we’re not putting ourselves in bad spots just from our own doing … make teams work for their chances if they’re going to get them,” captain Sidney Crosby said after his squad won its third straight game following a four-game skid.
With the Penguins trailing 1-0, Rickard Rakell fired a stretch pass to the captain, who grabbed it and fired a shot that trickled in off Nashville goaltender Juuse Saros for No. 87’s 27th goal so far.
Pittsburgh left winger Drew O’Connor said Saturday’s win over St. Louis and Sunday’s blowout were a welcome sight following the previous quartet of defeats.
“I think we’ve just kind of responded in a good way after a tough week,” O’Connor said after scoring against Tampa Bay. “I think we kind of just continued that today.”
Pittsburgh wraps up its three-game road trip with Saturday’s matchup against the Panthers in Sunrise, Fla.
–Field Level Media