Penguins’ grip on playoff spot loosens with loss at Tampa Bay
TAMPA, Fla. — After they played a wild, physical, barnburner Saturday night, there’s no doubt a playoff matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning would be a treat.
Only problem is, there’s no guarantee the Penguins are going to get to the playoff.
Tyler Johnson broke a third-period tie, leading the Lightning to a 5-4 victory and sending the Penguins to their fourth straight loss.
The Penguins are hanging onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by their fingertips.
Johnson’s goal came off the rush on a shot from the left faceoff circle about five minutes into the third period. The Lightning came perilously close to coming into the zone offside on the play, but coach Mike Sullivan elected not to challenge.
J.T. Miller scored an insurance goal on a top-corner shot from the top of the right faceoff circle with about six minutes left to make it 5-3.
Sidney Crosby stole a puck on the forecheck and set up Tanner Pearson for a goal in the slot to make it 5-4 a few minutes later.
Trailing 2-1 entering the second period, the Penguins were paid another visit by an unwelcome guest that just won’t go away this season. They gave up another short-handed goal.
Phil Kessel turned a puck over in the slot in the offensive zone, sending Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli off on a two-on-one break. Killorn fed Cirelli, who beat goalie Casey DeSmith with a backhand move to make it 3-1.
It was the league-leading 12th shorthanded goal allowed by the Penguins this season.
It was some consolation to the Penguins that they responded well to the goal, scoring once less than a minute later and again less than seven minutes after that.
The first goal came off the rush, with Jack Johnson driving to the net and Jared McCann lobbing a seemingly harmless wrister from the left wing that goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy couldn’t handle.
The second came when a Jake Guentzel wrap-around bid bounced to Bryan Rust at the left post for a slam dunk that tied the score 3-3 with about five minutes left in the second period.
When the puck dropped on the opening faceoff, Crosby became the franchise’s all-time leader in games played with 916, moving one ahead of Mario Lemieux.
Shortly thereafter, the Penguins opened the scoring with a milestone goal — the first of Garrett Wilson’s career — about 13 minutes into the first period.
Matt Cullen collected a puck in the defensive zone and fed Teddy Blueger skating up the left wing on a two-on-one with Wilson. Blueger saucered a pass across to Wilson, who buried a shot past Vasilevskiy. Wilson was playing in his 60th NHL game.
The era of good feeling in Penguins camp lasted about a minute and a half and ended when the Lightning scored twice in the span of 57 seconds.
The first goal came on a naked two-on-none after a Rust turnover. Brayden Point fed Yanni Gourde for the goal.
The second came on an Erik Cernak one-timer from the right point that looked to be headed wide of the post before it hit the skate of Patric Hornqvist, who was attempting a shot block.
The bad blood that has percolated between the teams this season continued to boil.
In the second period, a few minutes after Blueger fought Adam Erne and before Jack Johnson fought Killorn, Sidney Crosby and Tyler Johnson were involved in a confrontation. Crosby dropped his right glove and cocked his fist but didn’t throw a punch. They exchanged words on the way to the penalty box.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.