Penguins' comeback falls short against Lightning, Fleury struggles again

| Friday, Feb. 5, 2016, 10:27 p.m.

TAMPA, Fla. — Great goaltending kept the bottom from falling out on the Penguins multiple times in the first three months of the season.

A suddenly resurgent power play has made the team look like legitimate contenders in the past few weeks.

Neither element was present Friday night, and the Penguins saw their four-game winning streak snapped as a result.

Tyler Johnson had a goal and two assists, and the Tampa Bay Lightning chased Marc-Andre Fleury from the net midway through their 6-3 victory over the Penguins.

Fleury stopped 10 of 14 shots after turning back 18 of 23 in a victory over Ottawa on Tuesday.

Coach Mike Sullivan said his hook was not meant to lay blame on his goaltender.

“The goals that went in I think were high-quality chances,” Sullivan said. “I was trying to change the momentum of the game at that particular time.”

The special-teams struggles were evident in the second period.

Sidney Crosby scored in his fifth straight game, taking a centering pass from Chris Kunitz and firing a shot in under the crossbar about eight minutes in. It brought the Penguins back within one at 3-2, but it was sandwiched by a pair of critical goals for the Lightning.

First, Ondrej Palat picked up a puck Kunitz fumbled at the blue line at the end of a long power-play shift and scored on a shorthanded breakaway six minutes into the period to make it 3-1.

Later, Johnson scored on a power-play shot from the top of the right circle to give the Lightning a 4-2 edge and chase Fleury. The Penguins went 0 for 3 on the power play in the game.

“That's the difference in the game right there,” Kunitz said. “If we flip that and we would have scored on the power play and didn't give up that shorty, it would have been a different game.”

The Penguins got back within one again in the first minute of the third period when relief goalie Jeff Zatkoff made a point-blank stop on Ryan Callahan and Phil Kessel grabbed the rebound, skated the length of the ice and hit Matt Cullen with a centering pass for a goal.

It was a perfect chance for one of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton call-ups pressed into action when the Penguins were hit with injuries in the past few weeks to step in, but an unlikely hero didn't emerge.

Palat scored his second goal of the game on the rebound of a Steven Stamkos shot with 4:05 left to put the game away.

“We've got a lot of young guys up here from Wilkes. It's a good opportunity for all of us to take on more of a role on the team, more responsibility,” Pouliot said. “Didn't happen tonight.”

Getting off to a slow start, a problem that plagued the Penguins in the weeks before the All-Star break, wasn't an issue Friday. They outshot Tampa Bay, 10-1, in the first half of the first period and took a 1-0 lead on a Patric Hornqvist goal off a deft area pass from Kunitz at 4:52.

Before the period ended, though, Anton Stralman got open in the slot for a goal, and Alex Killorn scored on a double deflection and the Penguins suddenly found themselves in a hole.

“That was as good a team as we've seen play against us all year,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Fortunately for us, we came out of that period up 2-1. Pittsburgh was probably scratching their head a little bit.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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