It's not just that the Penguins lost.
Hey, it happens.
Especially against a quality opponent such as Tampa Bay, when that team is battling for its professional survival.
So the Penguins losing Game 5 of their opening-round playoff series with the Lightning Saturday wasn't an epic development.
What matters is how they lost.
And how badly.
Their 8-2 loss to the Lightning was the Penguins' most lopsided defeat in a home playoff game. It broke the mark set by a 7-2 loss to Washington April 25, 1992 and tied by a 5-0 loss to New Jersey May 19, 2001.
And, after the first 15 minutes, the game wasn't as competitive as the final score might suggest.
Winger Pascal Dupuis' terse postgame assessment -- "They showed up today. We didn't" -- might not have been entirely accurate, but it certainly captured the spirit of the moment.
"We got away from our game a little," Penguins center Max Talbot said. "It hurts. We see what can happen."
Their challenge now is to see that it does not happen again in Game 6 at 7:08 p.m. Monday at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. The Penguins will have another chance to lock up a berth in the second round if they can win that game; if not, Game 7 will be played Wednesday at Consol Energy Center.
"We still have the lead in the series," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "Nobody said it was going to be easy."
Definitely not, although Tampa Bay made it look that way for most of the final 45 minutes or so of Game 5.
The Penguins controlled play for much of the first period -- "We started right," left winger Mike Rupp said -- but Simon Gagne put Tampa Bay in front to stay when he tossed in the rebound of a Teddy Purcell shot that had rattled off the goal frame at 16:57.
Forty-six seconds later, Steven Stamkos made it 2-0. Rather than regroup during the intermission that arrived a few minutes later, the Penguins regressed. To something that looked a lot like the 1983-84 team.
When the Penguins returned from the locker room, they apparently left their focus and composure behind.
"After they got a couple of goals, we started coming unraveled a little bit," Rupp said. "We were getting upset with the referees ... you know, kind of got away from it."
Never came close to getting it back, either. Rupp and Chris Conner scored in the third period, but not until Tampa Bay had gone up by seven.
The vast majority of the Lightning's goals came on rebounds and other close-in chances as Tampa Bay finally got back to its strategy of throwing pucks at the net as often as possible.
"That's how they play," Michalek said. "For most of this season, we've done a pretty good job around the net. Tonight, we weren't good enough around our net. They scored so many goals from two feet out. That can't happen."
Not if the Penguins hope to be working on something other than their golf games a week from now, anyway. Give the Lightning so many scoring chances from close range again, and the scoreboard operator might have to be hospitalized for exhaustion.
Tampa Bay's final four goals came on the power play, another negative playoff record. Until Saturday, an opponent had scored as many as three in a game against the Penguins only once since the start of the regular season.
"They're a dangerous group," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "We have not done a good job in enough areas to keep them away from dangerous aspects of what they do."
Then again, the Lightning got enough even-strength goals to assure that the Penguins would fall to 0-5 when having a chance to clinch a playoff series on home ice since Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien as coach.
Far more important than that nugget of trivia is that this series is nowhere near settled.
"I said that to beat Pittsburgh, which has more experience than us, we have to learn real fast," Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. "And we're learning."
Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published April 24, 2011 4:00 AM