Perhaps the jolt Tampa Bay received upon coach Jon Cooper and goalie Ben Bishop’s arrival has finally worn off. The increased intensity and energy the Bolts had brought for the last two weeks was found only in small spurts on Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Better yet, though, perhaps the Lightning were just playing a much better team and the class of the Eastern Conference in Pittsburgh. Perhaps the Bolts learned in their 6-3 loss on Thursday night just how far away they are from being a good team.
The defense was poor, the offense hardly tested Pittsburgh goalie Tomas Vokoun and Bishop truly struggled for the first time in net. In summation, Pittsburgh outshot Tampa Bay 41-19 and 13 different Penguins had points in the game.
It was a poor performance for the Lightning all-around, who lost for the third time in the last four games and are fading down the stretch. Their chances of making the playoffs dropped to 1.1% after the loss, according to Sportsclubstats.com.
I’d say the number should be even lower as the Bolts need to not only make up eight points in eight games to claim the eighth spot, but pass five teams in the process. The rest of the season seems but a formality at this point.
Tampa Bay treated Thursday night’s game as a formality as well, coming out and getting thoroughly dominated by the Penguins from the start. Jussi Jokinen (8) opened the scoring at 4:07 and Pascal Dupuis (20) scored at 6:02 to build a quick 2-0 lead.
Teddy Purcell (9) kept the Bolts alive, scoring on a one-timer from Steven Stamkos late in the first to give Stamkos his 25th assist and 51st point of the season.
Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, who each had an assist in the game, sit five and six points behind the injured Sidney Crosby for the NHL points lead.
Chris Kunitz (21) and Brett Connolly (1) swapped goals in the second to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead heading into the final period. Connolly’s goal was his first NHL goal since November 17, 2011, also against the Penguins.
The Penguins really took control of the game in the third, outshooting Tampa Bay 14-4 and riding goals from Evgeni Malkin (8), Jokinen (9) and Tanner Glass (1) to the final margin of victory.
Purcell (10) added a power-play goal at 19:42 to close out the scoring.
In the grand scheme of things though, it wasn’t a great game for the Bolts. Bishop let in more soft goals than he has since joining the Lightning and the defense was at its absolute worst.
The Penguins, five points up for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, showed the 13th-place Lightning that they have a long way to go to compete with the elite teams of the NHL. Their most pressing need in the offseason should definitely be improving the crop of defensemen that they run onto the ice.
If things don’t get better starting with the defense, things won’t get better quickly. You can only ride a Ben Bishop hot streak for so long before he becomes human again. The Lightning need to build a consistent team.
For now, though, they’ll have to finish out the remaining eight games on their schedule, starting Saturday night against the Washington Capitals. It would put a satisfying cap on Tampa Bay’s season if they could at least come away with a victory against Alex Ovechkin and the Caps.
The puck drops in Washington at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, will look to tighten their grip on the top seed on Saturday night, when they play the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla. The game starts at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Oh, how different two teams can be. While the Penguins get ready to pursue a Cup, the Lightning are getting ready to hang their cups up for the summer.
- Center Tyler Johnson was named to the AHL First All-Star Team, and defenseman Mark Barberio and right wing Brett Connolly were named to the AHL Second All-Star Team on Thursday for their performances with the Syracuse Crunch this season. Ironically, all three were in the lineup for the Lightning on Thursday night.