Penguins rebound, cool off 1st-place Lightning
Less than two months ago, Western Pennsylvania’s first sportsbook opened at Rivers Casino.
This was terrible timing for local hockey gamblers.
Anyone walking up to the window and trying to figure out how the Pittsburgh Penguins will perform on any given night has surely gone broke by now.
Two days after being manhandled by one of the worst teams in the league, the Penguins routed the best. Phil Kessel and Kris Letang had a goal and an assist apiece, and the Penguins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-2, on Wednesday night.
Capping off an unpredictable evening, superstars Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos traded punches in a third-period fight.
A myriad of factors pointed toward the Penguins having an advantage on the Lightning, at least in the early part of the game.
For one thing, the Penguins were an ornery bunch after suffering an ugly 6-3 loss to last-place New Jersey on Monday night. They held a team meeting before Tuesday’s practice to discuss matters.
For another thing, the Penguins came in 5-2-1 this season against the four teams currently holding down first place in the NHL’s four divisions — the Islanders, Lightning, Winnipeg and Calgary.
Finally, the Lightning were playing their first game after a nine-day midseason break. They were bound to be a little rusty.
Once the puck dropped, they looked a lot rusty.
The Penguins scored three times before the game was nine minutes old.
First, a new-look fourth line made it 1-0. Garrett Wilson tried a wraparound, Teddy Blueger drove to the net to occupy defenseman Ryan McDonagh, and Riley Sheahan buried a loose puck from the left post less than four minutes into the game.
Blueger was making his NHL debut after being called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Tuesday. He was in the lineup in place of Derick Brassard, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, the team announced.
Less than five minutes later, the Penguins struck for a pair of goals in a 16-second span.
The first was a highlight-reel entry for Kessel. Malkin made a pass at the offensive blue line to spring Kessel and Bryan Rust on a two-on-one. Rust tried to go to his backhand and steer a puck around goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, but it rolled off his stick. With his stick trailing well behind his body, Kessel tapped the loose puck into an open cage from well below the goal line.
The assist was the 600th of Malkin’s career.
On the next shift, Jake Guentzel forced Brayden Point into a turnover behind the net, sending the puck to Dominik Simon in the left faceoff circle. He made a quick pass to Sidney Crosby for a slam dunk at the far post to make it 3-0.
The Penguins had a chance to bury the Lightning further when Cedric Paquette delivered a late hit to Letang, giving the Penguins a five-on-three advantage for 94 seconds in the middle of the period.
They did not score, which seemed to provide some momentum for the Lightning, who outshot the Penguins, 16-5, in the first period.
Matt Murray held his ground, though, and the Penguins tilted the ice back in their favor in the second period, outshooting the Lightning, 10-6.
They also made the score 4-0 on an amazing individual effort by Kessel.
Skating four-on-four, Kessel stickhandled all over the ice as the Lightning gave chase. Just when he seemed to be running out of gas, he worked a long-range give-and-go with Malkin to set up a two-on-one with Letang, who scored from the right wing.
It was Letang’s 108th career goal, tying Paul Coffey for the team record for defensemen.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.