The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals to take a 2-1 series lead.
After all of the clothing policy talk leading up to Game 3, the Penguins delivered a thorough undressing of the Lightning in the second and third periods to claim a 4-2 victory, taking the series lead and regaining home ice advantage. The two clubs played fairly toe-to-toe in a scoreless first period, but in the second the Pens began to show their dominance on the night, nearly doubling the Lightning in shots on goal, winning the faceoff battle and finding loose pucks with a drastically disproportionate frequency.
By the time the final horn sounded, it wasn’t the Penguins fans’ jerseys in the stands that were the story of the night, but rather the businesslike effort to simply wear down Tampa by a team that now appears to have found its stride in this series after coming out flat in Game 1.
In a familiar theme this postseason, the HBK line came through with Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin providing much of the firepower for the Penguins. Kessel skated like a man on a mission throughout the game, at one point having nearly half as many scoring chances to his credit as the entire Tampa lineup.
Putting pucks on net at every opportunity made it seem a matter of when, not if, Pittsburgh would break the scoreless tie – a premonition that ultimately rang true. With under a minute to go in the second, Kessel created an odd man rush off of a Lightning turnover and was stopped by Tampa goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, but Hagelin was waiting on the doorstep to promptly bury the rebound and give the Pens a 1-0 lead.
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Kessel found the back of the net at 5:16 of the third to increase the Pens’ lead to 2-0. Tampa’s Tyler Johnson answered less than a minute later to breathe some life into the Lightning, but consecutive Pittsburgh goals by Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz less than three minutes apart effectively shut the door on the Lightning’s chances to come back. Tampa’s Ondrej Palat did manage to solve Matt Murray at 18:12 of the third, but it was too little, too late.
While the Penguins were clicking on all cylinders for the night, similar to the zone they’ve been playing in the entire postseason, there was one cause for concern coming out of the victory. Right winger Patric Hornqvist left the game in the third period after blocking a shot off of his wrist and did not return. An update on Hornquist’s condition wasn’t immediately available after the game.
Matt Murray was again solid in goal for the Pens as well as a tad lucky, at a time of year when goalies need both to backstop their teams to playoff success. He made 26 saves and was aided by the goal post on one Lightning scoring opportunity to pick up his 9th win of this postseason, the most by a rookie netminder since the 2009 season.
The Penguins will look to open up a commanding 3-1 series lead when the two teams meet again on Friday night in Tampa at 8 PM.