Lightning lose to Penguins again, this time in overtime

TAMPA — It’s rare to see this Lightning team take little victories out of an overtime loss, especially because the team has set its bar of winning so high.

But there come points in every season when baby steps matter, and right now, the Lightning are fighting to get back to their winning ways.

Their 5-4 overtime loss to the Penguins on Thursday night at Amalie Arena, a game decided on forward Jason Zucker’s goal 2:13 into the extra session, had fewer holes than their previous two contests, games they fell out of quickly and chased for the rest of the night, losing both.

“We did better,” said center Brayden Point, who scored a power-play goal and assisted on defenseman Victor Hedman’s tying goal with less than five minutes left in regulation to force overtime.

“We’re getting there, back to how we can play. I think this is a step in the right direction. … I think when we’re a confident group, when we’re making plays, that’s when we’re at our best. So just trying to get there.”

The Lightning (37-19-5) have won just one of their past five games, all games against teams clawing to make the postseason. They’re 1-2-2 over that stretch, and they allowed four or more goals in each of their four losses.

On Thursday, after seeing a one-goal lead turn into a one-goal deficit when Penguins defenseman Jeff Petry scored twice in 25 seconds in the second period to make it 2-1, the Lightning rallied to tie three times, including Hedman’s goal with 4:10 left in regulation.

“I like a lot of our game (Thursday), way more than I have in the last couple of games,” coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s been night and day. So positive signs. Do I like the fact that we went down 4-3 late in the game? No. But do I love the fact that we had swag enough to come back and tie it? I do.

“Sometimes … you play decent and you lose some games. I’m not saying we deserved to win (Thursday). We just made too many big mistakes. But again, trending in the right direction, I think, and if we just keep taking steps forward here, we’ll be all right.”

The Lightning have lost all three of their meetings with the Penguins this season, but this was their most competitive game, especially following their 7-3 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday, a game that included five straight Penguins goals in the final 4:32 of the second period.

Tampa Bay’s penalty kill was 5-for-5, holding Pittsburgh’s power play scoreless for 10 minutes, though the Lightning allowed a goal 23 seconds after killing off a too-many-men penalty in the second period. Zucker got behind Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev after crossing the blue line, took a stretch pass from defenseman Marcus Pettersson for a breakaway and beat Vasilevskiy five-hole to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead.

The Lightning were gift wrapped a 5-on-3 power play for 1:56 when the Penguins committed back-to-back delay-of-game penalties late in the second period for putting the puck over the glass. With the advantage extending into the third period, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang exited the box to make it a one-man advantage for the Lightning, then Steven Stamkos flicked a wrister from the left circle off goalie Tristan Jarry’s left shoulder and into the goal to tie the score at 3.

“We needed to score there,” Cooper said. “It doesn’t matter when you score. You’ve just got to score, and we did. It’s probably why we got a point out of this.”

Lightning defenseman Darren Raddysh, recalled from AHL Syracuse earlier in the day, lost the puck in his zone and Penguins forward Drew O’Connor took the inside edge on him going to the net for a 4-3 lead 6:59 into the third period.

In overtime, Stamkos stumbled in the Lightning zone, allowing Pettersson time and space to set up Zucker for a one-timer from the right circle that beat Vasilevskiy (27 saves) on his glove side.

“It seems like you’re going through a tough stretch right now where we can’t get the results we want,” Hedman said. “But our pushback, our special teams, was good. It’s just one of those stretches where you just can’t get the results you want.

“It was a close game, and it ended in overtime, so we get this point and we move on.”

The Lightning played the last 26 minutes of regulation without defenseman Erik Cernak, who did not skate after leaving the ice with 5:50 remaining in the second period. Cooper did not have an update on Cernak after the game.

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