Tue, 16 Aug 2022

Penguins face Lightning in heavyweight showdown

Field Level Media
03 Mar 2022, 05:40 GMT+10

The Pittsburgh Penguins will return to the scene of the season opener when they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.

The Eastern Conference powerhouses kicked off the 2021-22 campaign on Oct. 12 in a Stanley Cup banner-raising night for the Lightning, who celebrated their second consecutive championship.

All the cheering after that belonged to the visiting Penguins, who won 6-2 despite playing undermanned.

Penguins star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both missed the game with injuries, while Zach Aston-Reese and Jake Guentzel were sidelined under COVID-19 protocol.

Pittsburgh, which lost a rematch in the Steel City, 5-1, two weeks later, will play the middle clash of a three-game road swing that will finish Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Behind a 27-save outing by Tristan Jarry and a goal by Malkin, the Penguins broke a three-game skid with a 1-0 triumph over the visiting New York Rangers on Saturday.

In Columbus the next day, Crosby fought his way to the front, grabbed a rebound after contact initiated by Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins and whipped in the tiebreaking goal with 2:14 left in regulation for a 3-2 comeback win.

The game-winner was Crosby's 74th, tying him with Mario Lemieux for third all-time in franchise history. It also elevated him to 25th place in scoring in NHL history with 1,375 points.

"For us to come back and show the grit we did in the third was pretty special," Penguins defenseman Mark Friedman said.

The Lightning have reclaimed the top spot in the Atlantic Division by matching their season high with five straight wins, but they made it tough Tuesday night at home against Ottawa as they trailed 2-0 in the match's first 3:43.

Center Brayden Point sparked the comeback by scoring the tying goal late in the first period, and he also handed out three assists in the 5-2 win. Tampa Bay improved to 7-0-1 at its home arena since Jan. 13.

While a four-point night is something to brag about, Point heaped praise on the play of right winger Nikita Kucherov (goal, assist) and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (25 saves).

Regarding Vasilevskiy, Point said a few crucial saves kept the game from getting completely out of hand.

"We have a lot of belief in our group and never feel out of a game," Point said. "On four-on-four (play), Vasi made a couple of massive saves. That could've been three-zip. That definitely changes our momentum and how we're feeling on the bench."

Point credited Kucherov for leading the charge to five unanswered goals to end the season series against Ottawa with three wins in four outings.

In 17 games, the sharpshooting Kucherov -- who missed 32 games after getting hurt in the season's third contest -- has produced 11 multi-point showings.

"The hardest thing is getting your timing back -- when you've got time, when you can make plays -- but Kuch is so good at that," said Point, who has 40 points (21 goals, 19 assists) in 38 games. "It's so natural to him. Plus, he worked so hard when he was recovering."

After home games against Pittsburgh and Detroit, the Lightning will embark on an arduous six-game trip through the Western Conference.

--Field Level Media

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