Few have bested the Tampa Bay Lightning this season, but if you’re going to do it, building up a quick lead and then keeping them at bay seems like an effective blueprint to get the job done.
The Pittsburgh Penguins followed that plan in a 4-2 win on Wednesday Night Hockey.
Three goals inside the first 8:21 — one each from Riley Sheahan, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby — had Pittsburgh cruising, and from there it was the Matt Murray show, despite giving up a couple late in the game.
Bend, just don’t break.
The effort was a welcomed relief for the Pens, who had lost four-of-five coming into Wednesday and have found themselves in a battle with the Buffalo Sabres for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Murray returned to his recent self after dropping his last outing. Even with their 6-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Monday, Murray’s numbers since returning from injury in the middle of December have been some of the best in the NHL. The 24-year-old entered the day with a 10-2-0 record with a .933 save percentage, so a bounce-back seemed inevitable.
And it was.
Murray turned aside 33-of-35 shots sent his way by the league’s most potent offense, losing the shutout bid on a one-timer by J.T. Miller late in the third period before surrendering a second to Steven Stamkos on the power play with little over two minutes remaining.
Pittsburgh settled this one much earlier, and Tampa’s frustration (and perhaps the Penguins’ own frustration as of late) boiled over at points, including a surprise fight between Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin needed one assist coming into the game to become the fourth player in Pens history to reach 600. He got two, for good measure, to join Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Sidney Crosby in the Penguins’ pantheon. He also joined Russian royalty with his first assist of the game on Kessel’s goal, becoming the fourth Russian player to the mark after Sergei Fedorov, Sergei Zubov and Pavel Datsyuk.
Keeping with the records, Letang’s 12th in the second period was his 108th as a Penguin, tying Paul Coffey for most by a Pens defender.
With the win, Pittsburgh jumped from that second wild-card spot to second in the Metropolitan, three points back of the division-leading New York Islanders.