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Saturday, May 14, 2016

ECF Game 1 Recap: Pens Stumble, Lose 3-1

The Pittsburgh Penguins weren't able to get the better of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 3 regular season games, and through one game in the Eastern Conference Finals nothing has changed in that regard. Though given a golden opportunity when Ben Bishop exited the game midway through the 1st period, the Pens weren't able to take advantage due to sloppy play and turnovers, and the Bolts rallied around the injury to their star netminder to win 3-1. Patric Hornqvist scored the lone Penguin goal on a power play late in the 2nd period while Matt Murray stopped 17 of 20 shots faced in net.

It didn't take long for things to get heated between the Penguins and Lightning. Minutes in, Jonathan Drouin made a great pass from the left boards to set up Ondrej Palat on the far post, but Matt Murray made an even better cross crease push to rob Palat. Shortly after, Ryan Callahan took an absolutely atrocious boarding penalty against Kris Letang that knocked the Pittsburgh defender out of the game. He got a 5 minute major, but no game misconduct, and it's sad that this is actually an improvement on the part of the on ice officials after watching Tom Wilson receive no penalty for his knee on Conor Sheary and Brooks Orpik only 2 minutes for targeting Olli Maatta.

The Pens would get some chances early in the extended power play, bu they weren't able to keep consistent pressure on the Lightning, and Tampa was able to kill off the major without allowing a goal. Pittsburgh would continue to drive play, and midway through the period Ben Bishop collapsed in his crease untouched and writhed on the ice in demonstrable pain. It was a difficult situation to watch as Bishop was clearly crushed by what is almost certainly a very significant injury, and after several minutes the stretcher came out to wheel him off the ice.

The teams would resume play with Andrei Vasilevskiy in the Lightning net, and it would be Tampa Bay striking late in the 1st period to take a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. Victor Hedman made a long pass from the goal line to Alex Killorn at the blue line, and after Olli Maatta got caught in no man's land hesitating on whether or not trying to jump the pass. It was a display of awful decision making that will give critics of Maatta's place in the lineup plenty of ammunition, and after the pass got through to Killorn cleanly he took it in alone on Murray and slipped it through his legs for the opening goal. Tampa would suffer another potentially huge injury when Chris Kunitz checked Tyler Johnson behind the Tampa net, catching his knee and sending him off the ice in clear pain, unable to put weight on his right leg.

Just one period into the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Lightning were already facing the prospect of losing their Vezina Trophy nominated goaltender and top postseason scorer long term, and this was in addition to starting the series without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman. Nonetheless, the game would continue to go on, and Evgeni Malkin would take a hooking penalty in the offensive zone when he impeded Hedman from playing the puck. It wouldn't take long for the Lightning to take advantage on the power play as Valtteri Filppula wristed a shot from the left circle that Murray kicked out to the slot to an unchecked Palat, and he buried it to put the Bolts up 2-0.

The Penguins would get another power play opportunity midway through the 2nd period after Nikita Nesterov hooked Conor Sheary. After having difficulty getting their man advantage set up, the Pens would get some great looks in the second half of the opportunity but were incapable of getting one past Vasilevskiy. The Lightning would kill it off, and Johnson would return to the Tampa bench aroudn the same time. Moments later, Matt Cullen would take a tripping penalty against Hedman to put the Bolts back on the power play. The Pittsburgh power play would do a good job of getting the puck deep into the Tampa zone to kill off the minor without much threat from the Lightning.

Like in the 1st period, the Lightning would get a late goal, this time after a Penguin turnover and an ill-timed pinch. Brian Dumoulin would have difficulty playing the puck along the right boards, and Letang would jump up in the play anticipating the puck going deep. It would lead to a 3-on-1 Tampa rush against Dumoulin, and Palat would feed Jonathan Drouin cross ice for a one timer that Murray didn't have a chance to stop to give the Lightning a 3-0 lead.

However, Hedman would get sent off for tripping Sheary with just over a minute left in the period, and the Pens were able to strike quickly when Patric Hornqvist snapped a shot from the slot that Vasilevskiy didn't see coming, and Pittsburgh was able to cut the lead to 3-1 before entering the locker room for the second intermission. The Lightning would go into a defensive shell in the 3rd period, allowing the Penguins to maintain puck possession and attempt to mount a comeback, but they wouldn't be able to beat Vasilevskiy in the scoreless period.

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