Penguins’ grip on playoff spot loosens with loss at Tampa Bay
TAMPA, Fla. — After they played another wild, physical, barnburner Saturday night, there’s no doubt a playoff matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning would be a treat.
Only problem is, there’s no guarantee the Penguins are going to get to the playoffs.
Tyler Johnson broke a third-period tie, leading the Lightning to a 5-4 victory and sending the Penguins to their fourth straight loss.
The Penguins erased a two-goal deficit and pushed back against a top-flight Tampa Bay team on the road, but none of those things will give them a point in the standings.
If Carolina beats New Jersey on Sunday, the Penguins will be knocked out of the playoff picture and into ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
“Close games like that are going to be pretty common all the way in here,” Sidney Crosby said. “We have to make sure we’re finding a way to get those big plays. I think that’s the more frustrating part than anything.”
Two brutal, glaring errors stood out above the rest for the Penguins.
Late in the first period, with the Penguins up 1-0 on Garrett Wilson’s first NHL goal, Bryan Rust turned a puck over inside the offensive blue line, giving Tampa Bay a naked two-on-none break. Yanni Gourde finished a pass from Brayden Point.
“The decision was great. Sid was open. The pass was (expletive) horrendous,” Rust said. “That one’s on me.”
Early in the second period, with the Penguins on the power play down 2-1, Phil Kessel turned a puck over in the slot in the offensive zone. It led to an Anthony Cirelli goal on a two-on-one with Alex Killorn.
It was the league-leading 12th short-handed goal allowed by the Penguins this season.
“I have nothing more to say about the power play,” coach Mike Sullivan said.
The Penguins battled back by scoring twice in the eight minutes that followed the Cirelli goal.
Jared McCann lobbed a puck from the left wing past goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Rust stuffed in the rebound of a Jake Guentzel wrap-around. They also got a Tanner Pearson goal late to get back within one.
“I thought we fought hard all night. We battled. We pushed,” Sullivan said. “I still think, to a certain extent, the types of mistakes we make, we beat ourselves with some of the decisions we make with the puck.”
Tyler Johnson scored the winning goal on a shot from the left faceoff circle off the rush about five minutes into the third period. The Lightning came perilously close to entering the zone offside on the play, but Sullivan didn’t challenge.
“(Video coach Andy Saucier) looked at it a number of different ways. He thought it was onside,” Sullivan said.
Casey DeSmith, a bit of a surprise starter with Matt Murray cleared to return from an upper-body injury, made 29 saves.
“I thought Casey was fine,” Sullivan said. “The goals they scored were good goals. They’re not easy to stop.”
The bad blood that has percolated between the teams this season continued to boil.
In the second period, after Teddy Blueger fought Adam Erne and before Jack Johnson fought Killorn, Crosby and Tyler Johnson were involved in a confrontation. Crosby dropped his right glove and cocked his fist but didn’t throw a punch. They exchanged words on the way to the penalty box.
“I don’t have a great explanation,” Crosby said. “The first (game) kind of carried over to the next one and the next one.”
Crosby played in his 916th career game with the Penguins, breaking Mario Lemieux’s franchise record of 915. Nick Bjugstad left the game with an injury in the third period.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at
via Twitter @BombulieTrib.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .