Lightning don’t play from behind for a change, dispatch Penguins

PITTSBURGH — Tampa Bay did everything it could in the first period against Pittsburgh to somehow, someway take a lead in regulation for the first time this season.

Lightning players were chippy and physical. They attacked the Penguins’ power play and created offensive opportunities of their own, and they held a distinct advantage in shots.

Yet they could not find the back of the net against Pittsburgh goaltender Tristan Jarry.

Then came the second period.

Brayden Point gave the Lightning their first regulation lead of the season on a backhander 31 seconds into the second stanza, then Ondrej Palat and Ryan McDonagh chipped in goals 10 seconds apart midway through the period. Staked to a three-goal lead, Tampa Bay (3-3-1) held on and handed the Penguins (3-1-2) their first regulation loss of the season in a 5-1 victory at PPG Paints Arena a day after absorbing a 5-1 loss in Buffalo.

“There’s a lot of talk about back-to-backs and how hard they are and sometimes back-to-backs are needed, and we needed a back-to-back after last night,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “I had a good feeling the guys were going to respond.”

Andrei Vasilevskiy had a few shaky moments early on — most notably when the Penguins had a Brock McGinn goal waved off with 5:16 remaining in the first period because of a quick whistle in which the referee apparently lost sight of the puck — but the veteran netminder got stronger as the night wore on. In the end, he stopped 28 shots and was in line for his 27th career shutout until Penguins forward Jason Zucker beat him with 2:17 left.

“The other team is going to have pushes throughout a game and obviously you need your goalie to make a few saves and Vasy was awesome,” McDonagh sad. “I wish we could have pulled off the shutout, but he was awesome back there.”

It was a complete offensive reversal for Tampa Bay, which had scored only five goals in its previous three games and had been held to two goals or fewer in four of its first six.

To that end, Cooper shuffled his lines in an effort to generate offense. Point centered the top line with Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli while captain Steven Stamkos shifted off the wing back to his natural center spot and played between Palat on the left and Mathieu Joseph on the right.

“I thought it was pretty good, that we worked hard and every line got its chances,” Palat said. “We skated, I thought, better than we have the last couple games and we stayed on top of them.”

Both teams came in with a little bit of an edge and showed a willingness to play a more physical game. McDonagh took a double-minor for roughing during a skirmish with the Penguins’ Sam Lafferty at 4:39 of the first period, while Corey Perry and Lafferty dropped the gloves less than eight minutes into the game.

But neither team continued the post-whistle frivolity into the second period thanks in large part to Point’s goal just 34 seconds in. He blew down the left side and flipped a backhander on Jarry that beat him high to the glove side that gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead and the opportunity to play from ahead for the first time all season.

Pittsburgh had its chances. The Penguins put sustained pressure on in the Lightning zone for nearly a minute and tested Vasilevskiy several times during the onslaught, but they could not find the back of the net.

That proved costly for Pittsburgh as Tampa Bay counterattacked with a vengeance.

Palat scored off the rush at 11:18 then, right off the faceoff, McDonagh flipped a shot from the left point that found its way past Jarry for a 3-0 Lightning lead.

“I thought it’s a good step,” said Palat, “but I think there is room for improvement and we need to be better, too.”

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