From the Point Contributor
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t get the start they wanted against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
And when they had a key 5-on-3 opportunity late in the second period to crawl back into the game, they let it slip away.
Steven Stamkos scored his 300th career goal, part of an early three-goal cushion that carried the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 4-2 victory against the Penguins.
“It’s pretty special,” Stamkos said of his 300th career goal. “First of all, it means you’ve been around for awhile and secondly, I’ve been fortunate to play with a lot of good players.”
The 26-year-old Stamkos, who has 24 goals this season, netted his 300th goal in just 550 games, the second-youngest active player – behind Washington’s Alex Ovechkin – to score 300 goals.
“I knew coming in I had 299, so it’s not a crazy number where you’re losing sleep over it,” Stamkos said. “But when you’re close to something like that, it’s nice to get it out of the way and focus on what you have to do to win.”
Tyler Johnson and Anton Stralman both scored their ninth of the season and Matt Carle his first for the Lightning, who snapped a nine-game losing streak in Pittsburgh that dated back to Nov. 12, 2010. Ben Bishop made 37 saves for the Lightning.
Tom Kuhnhackl scored his first career NHL goal and Scott Wilson, who netted his first on Thursday, scored his second in as many games for the Penguins, who played their eighth game without star center Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins are 4-3-1 in eight games without Malkin, who has been out since a Feb. 5 trip to Tampa Bay.
Jeff Zatkoff stopped 16 shots for the Penguins.
Marc-Andre Fleury was scheduled to start in goal for Pittsburgh, but he was a late scratch with an illness. Fleury had three wins in his previous five games since he was pulled during a 6-3 loss against Tampa Bay earlier in the month.
“I knew early enough when I got to the rink,” Zatkoff said. “(Fleury) gave me a courtesy text so I had an idea, but it doesn’t change anything.
“That’s my job to be able to come in and give the team a chance to win.”
The Penguins trailed 4-1 until Wilson scored late in the second period to pull his team within two goals.
Pittsburgh continued to surge as the Penguins earned a 5-on-3 power play for 1:08 near the end of the second, but they came up empty and Tampa Bay was able to maintain its two-goal cushion.
“I think that’s a big moment for us,” Penguins’ coach Mike Sullivan said. “If we score in that circumstance, we’re down one going into the third and it’s a close, one-goal game.
“We had some looks, but we didn’t finish. That’s a big moment in the game for us.”
The Penguins scored 12 goals in their first three games without Malkin before netting three in the next three. Sullivan paired captain Sidney Crosby with Phil Kessel for the first time since he took over in December and it worked on Thursday during a 6-3 win against Detroit as the two combined for three goals. But Sullivan was forced to split the pair against Tampa Bay after the Penguins fell behind by three goals early in the game.
Pittsburgh previously outscored Tampa Bay 48-19 during nine straight home wins with four or more goals in all nine wins. Tampa Bay has done the same to Pittsburgh during three wins this season with 13 goals on 59 shots this season.
Stralman opened the scoring midway through the first with a seeing-eye shot from the point, giving Tampa Bay the early lead just seconds after Kevin Porter rang a shot off the crossbar for Pittsburgh.
Stamkos put the Lightning ahead by two with his 300th career goal a little more than two minutes later. Stamkos was alone at the far post when he pushed the rebound from Alex Killorn’s point shot across the line.
Carle gave Tampa Bay a three-goal lead 3:14 into the second period when his shot through the point passed a sea of bodies and squeezed through Zatkoff’s pads.
Kuhnhackl gave Pittsburgh life when he flipped a backhand over Bishop’s shoulder, scoring his first NHL goal unassisted, short-handed and on a breakaway.
But Johnson helped Tampa Bay re-gain its three-goal cushion with a sharp tic-tac-toe passing sequence. Johathan Marchessault sent a cross-ice pass to Ondrej Palat, who centered to Johnson at the top of the crease for a tap in.
“They made a great play on the fourth goal, but the other three, you have to find a way,” Zatkoff said. “A lot of goals are scored because of traffic and bounces. I felt like when I saw the shot, I stopped it and was able to get a good read on it.”
NOTES: Penguins’ D Ben Lovejoy left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury. He will not play Sunday at Buffalo … Lightning F Cedric Paquette left late in the third with a left leg injury after blocking a shot from the point.