With their playoff backs to the wall, the Lightning’s big guns sprang to life to power Tampa Bay to an 8-2 rout of the Penguins. Simon Gagne, Steven Stamkos and Pavel Kubina paced the Bolts’ potent attack with two goals apiece, while Vincent Lecavalier notched a goal and an assist.
In many ways, the Quarterfinals matchup has assumed a distinct David versus Goliath feel. While the super-charged Lightning hold a pronounced 17-12 edge in goals, the undermanned Pens still lead the series 3 games to 2.
For a time it appeared the Penguins would polish off the Lightning in Game 5. Skating before an overflow crowd of 18,535 at the CONSOL Energy Center, “the Peskies” piled up an 11-4 advantage in shots while dominating the action. However, a brilliant shift by the line of Gagne, Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell at 16:57 stole the Pens’ thunder and changed the complexion of the game. Purcell capped off a breathtaking series of tape-to-tape passes with a wicked shot that exploded off the crossbar. The puck bounded into the crease, where Gagne swept it past Marc-Andre Fleury for the all-important first goal.
Less than a minute later the Lightning were up by two. With both teams in the midst of a line change, Tampa’s Steve Downie hopped over the boards and drilled a hard shot on the Pens’ net. Fleury made the initial save but couldn’t control the rebound. Steven Stamkos outworked the tandem of Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek for the loose puck and deftly flipped a backhander over “the Flower’s” pads for his first goal of the series.
Working on a power play to begin the second period, the Pens still had hopes for a comeback. However, the black and gold continued to squander scoring opportunities and the Lightning made them pay. Moments after the power play expired, Stamkos rode Martin off the puck and slipped a pass to Lecavalier in the slot. The big center made no mistake and ripped the rubber past a helpless Fleury to make the score 3-0.
Following Lecavalier’s tally, the Penguins completely unraveled. Gagne scored his second goal of the afternoon at 5:31 to chase Fleury. Unfortunately, replacement Brent Johnson fared no better. Moments after the switch Stamkos struck on the power play. Early in the third period Kubina beat the veteran backup twice within the span of three minutes to run the score to 7-0.
The Pens finally showed some moxie at 6:36 of the final frame, when Mike Rupp banged his own rebound past Dwayne Roloson from the edge of the crease. Less than two minutes later Chris Conner converted a made-to-order setup from Max Talbot into his first career playoff goal. However, the game quickly dissolved into an endless parade to the penalty box. Ex-Pen Dominic Moore closed out the scoring with yet another Lightning power-play goal at 15:35.
Steven Stamkos (2 goals and 1 assist) earned the No. 1 star … Max Talbot paced the Penguins in scoring with two assists … Talbot and Mike Rupp were the only Pens to record a positive plus/minus rating (plus-1 each) … Tyler Kennedy registered a game-high eight shots … The Lightning were 4-for-7 on the power play; the Pens 0-7 … Chris Kunitz returned to the lineup after serving a one-game suspension … The Pens have a series record of 6-12 when they lose Game 5.
The Penguins and the Lightning clash Monday night in Game 6 at the St. Pete Times Forum. The Pens are 0-5 under Dan Byslma when attempting to close out a series on home ice, but 5-1 on the road.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and colorful history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more. A must have for any true Penguins fan.