'HBK' line shines as Penguins take series lead against Lightning
TAMPA, Fla. — The combination of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel has the numbers.
It has a nickname.
Now, it has a signature play as well.
Hagelin scored a goal on the rebound of a Kessel shot in the closing moments of the second period Wednesday night, breaking a scoreless tie and leading the Penguins to a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final.
The Penguins lead the series 2-1. Game 4 is set for Friday night in Tampa.
“They've given us a lot of momentum,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “They've produced a lot for us. Again tonight, they were great for us. They've been really consistent.”
The combination of Hagelin, Bonino and Kessel has scored more than a goal per game since it was put together in mid-March. They've captured the fancy of the sporting public in Western Pennsylvania and even earned a nickname, the HBK Line, because the first initials of their last names are the same as the moniker used by popular professional wrestler Shawn “The Heartbreak Kid” Michaels.
In Game 3, though, the HBK Line faced an opponent that might have left it down for the count.
Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, a 21-year-old phenom, largely has been brilliant since taking over for an injured Ben Bishop in the first period of Game 1. He was at the top of his game through most of the first two periods Wednesday, stopping the first 30 shots he faced.
“He was unbelievable,” Kessel said. “We put a lot of pucks on him, and I thought he played great.”
In the final minute of the second period, the Penguins finally cracked Vasilevskiy.
It began with a phenomenal effort from Kessel, who stole a Jonathan Drouin pass in the defensive zone, beat all-star defenseman Victor Hedman up the right wing and fired a shot into Vasilevskiy's pads. Hagelin cashed in the rebound with 10 seconds left in the period.
“We knew he played great, but at the same time, we knew if we kept pushing, if we shot 48 shots, we knew it was going to go in,” Hagelin said.
It went in again early in the second period when Bonino tracked down a puck behind the net and made a quick centering pass to Kessel in front for a goal that made it 2-0.
“He's open most of the time,” Bonino said. “I just trust him and give him the puck, and he does what he does.”
“He was a machine all night,” Hagelin added.
The goal proved crucial because the Lightning were able to strike twice in the third period, getting goals from Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.
They never managed to tie the score, though. Crosby scored on a knee-drop one-timer for the second straight game, and Chris Kunitz added an insurance goal.
The Lightning were outshot 48-28 in a trend that needs to reverse if they're going to compete in the series.
“The volume of shots we're giving up and some of the chances we're giving up, they're just way too many,” coach Jon Cooper said.
They also need to find an answer for the HBK line.
“Phil Kessel probably doesn't get near the respect he deserves. He's scored a ton of goals in this league,” Cooper said. “Bonino's one of those underrated players that ... always has name stars ahead of him, but he's a heck of a player. Hagelin, he's has won everywhere he's gone, all the teams he's played on.
“But they get overshadowed by the big-name guys. They're a deep team. Those guys have found chemistry together.”
The victory might have come at a cost for the Penguins. Patric Hornqvist left the ice with about seven minutes left in the third period after taking a shot to the left hand. He did not return, and coach Mike Sullivan did not have an update on his condition after the game.
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