Sidney Crosby is tripped by Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat during the first period Saturday in Tampa, Fla.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
TAMPA -- The game was six months ago, but Jon Cooper hasn't forgotten it.
Sounds like it might be quite a while before he does.
Cooper, you see, was just a couple of weeks into his tenure as Tampa Bay's coach when the Penguins visited Tampa Bay Times Forum April 11 and performed a 6-3 vivisection on the Lightning.
"It could have been 16-3," Cooper said.
That game is why he circled the one against the Penguins Saturday night as soon as the 2013-14 schedule was released.
He was looking forward to getting another chance to evaluate his team against the Penguins.
Unfortunately for Cooper -- and his team -- Sidney Crosby, who was recovering from a broken jaw the previous time these teams met, showed up this time.
And left his fingerprints all over the Penguins' 5-4 victory by recording his eighth career hat trick.
But even that wasn't enough to guarantee the Penguins their fourth victory in five games this season.
They didn't get the goal that assured them of two points until there were just 18.6 seconds left in regulation, when defenseman Matt Niskanen beat Lightning goalie Anders Lindback on a slap shot from above the left circle on a power play.
"I had that shot a couple of times earlier in the game," Niskanen said. "One of them, the goalie made a nice save on and I missed the net on a couple."
Niskanen's goal gave the Penguins their seventh victory in a row in the regular season against Tampa Bay, the longest such streak in franchise history.
And it showed why Cooper had identified this game as a measuring stick for his team.
"I know it's really early and I don't know how much you can take from it, but on the personal side and for our team, we want to see where we're at," he said.
Tampa Bay showed itself to be a pretty fair club that promises to get even better, but it couldn't find a way to contain Crosby.
Or to keep the Penguins from consistently wiping out Lightning leads.
"We had to do that all night," Crosby said. "It's not easy, but we stuck with it. We stayed composed, waited for our chances and capitalized when we got them."
Valtteri Filppula gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead at 13:25 of the opening period, when an Alex Killorn shot deflected off him and past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, but Crosby responded with his first of the game at 2:14 of the second period, controlling the rebound of a Jussi Jokinen shot with his right skate and tossing the puck between the legs of Lindback for a power-play goal.
The goal gave Crosby at least one point in each of the first five games of the season; his career-best streak at the start of a season is six games, set when he was a rookie in 2006.
Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay, however, broke the tie less than three minutes later, beating Fleury on the short side at 5:11 for his fourth of the season.
Guys such as Crosby and Stamkos have histories of scoring in spectacular fashions.
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik does not -- he began the night with 11 goals in 635 career games -- but that didn't prevent him from tying the score at 7:01.
Orpik was well into the left circle in the Tampa Bay zone, considerably deeper than he gets most of the time, when he deflected winger Pascal Dupuis' shot from the right point past Lindback to break a 110-game goal-less streak in the regular season.
The Lightning went back in front on a power-play goal by Teddy Purcell at 15:42, as he steered in a Sami Salo shot six seconds before an interference minor to Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was to expire, but Crosby countered 25 seconds into the third, tipping a Rob Scuderi wrist shot past Lindback.
The Lightning negated that goal when Killorn deflected in a Richard Panik feed on a power play at 16:58 to make it 4-4, but that only set the stage for Niskanen to give the Penguins their most satisfying victory of the season.
Not their most technically sound, perhaps, but just one night after a relatively dismal showing in a 6-3 loss to Florida, they were resilient and able to produce when it mattered most.
"It wasn't our best," Niskanen said. "We had to battle through some sloppy play. ... But we did a good job of battling back all night."