Lightning's Tyler Johnson celebrates his goal against Penguins goaltender Jeff Zatkoff in the second period at Consol Energy Center.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jeff Zatkoff got a courtesy text Saturday morning from Marc-Andre Fleury, giving him a heads up that he wasn’t feeling well, and an impromptu start for Zatkoff was likely.
By afternoon’s end, Zatkoff and the Penguins defense were victimized by the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 4-2 loss at Consol Energy Center.
The Lightning scored three of their four goals off seemingly harmless shots from the point that snaked their way through traffic to complete a season sweep and earn two key points in the muddled Eastern Conference playoff picture.
“I felt like tonight when I saw the shot, I stopped it. [When] I was able to get a good read on it,” said Zatkoff, who said two of the three ricocheted off his own teammates before hitting the back of the net.
The Lightning (32-22-4) took a 3-0 lead by the 3:14 mark of the second period and struck twice in a span of 2:12 of the first, with goals from Anton Stralman and Steven Stamkos.
Stralman’s shot found its way through from the point at 9:08. Stamkos tapped in a backdoor rebound on a wide open net after Alex Killorn’s shot from the point bounced across the goal mouth at 11:20. It marked Stamkos’ 300th career goal.
Matthew Carle made it 3-0 at 3:14 of the second when his shot appeared to make it through clean from the point despite several layers of bodies.
“I think we can continue to improve at giving our goaltenders an opportunity to see the puck from those areas,” said coach Mike Sullivan, whose Penguins fell to 29-20-8. “Those are nothing plays if the goalies sees it. I mean, they’re essentially three wrist shots from the blue line.”
Agreed, said defenseman Olli Maatta: “You know what I think? The three goals we gave up, I don’t think we battled hard enough in front of our own net. The puck got through and they got the rebound or tap.”
From there, Penguins rookies Tom Kuhnhackl and Scott Wilson each scored second-period goals to cut the Lightning lead and mount a comeback.
Kuhnhackl’s goal was a highlight-reel backhander off a short-handed breakaway at 5:35 that cut the lead to 3-1.
Wilson’s goal came next, but not before Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson made it 4-1 at 11:53 with a tap-in off a feed from the wing.
Wilson converted a rebound off a shot by Bryan Rust at 16:01 to cut the lead to 4-2.
The Penguins were generating chances and had 1:08 of a 5-on-3 man-advantage at the end of the second period, but were unable to convert.
“We get one there and down one going into the third after everything that happened we would’ve been in better position, for sure,” Sidney Crosby said.
The Penguins continued to generate offense in the third period, before spending four long minutes on the penalty-kill when Kris Letang was assessed a double minor, an illegal stick and unsportsmanlike conduct, with 8:06 left.
Letang used his opponent’s stick after a collision then expressed his displeasure to the officials. The Penguins built a massive lead in the shot margin (39-20) by game’s end, but couldn’t score again.
Fleury, who was not sick enough for the Penguins to call in an emergency backup, was dressed on the bench as Zatkoff’s backup. His status for a game today against the Buffalo Sabres is unclear.
“We’re hoping that he’ll feel better here moving forward,” Sullivan said after the loss. “We’ll have to see how he reacts here going through the course of [Saturday].”
The Penguins will not have defenseman Ben Lovejoy however, Sullivan said. He left the game in the second period with an upper body injury.
Who: Penguins vs. Buffalo Sabres.
When, where: 12:38 p.m. Sunday, First Niagara Center, Buffalo, N.Y.
Noteworthy: Penguins RW Patric Hornqvist has 299 career points. ... Penguins D Ian Cole has been a healthy scratch for 11 consecutive games. ... According to the Olean Times Herald in New York, Sabres C Ryan O’Reilly skipped practice Saturday but is considered probable. ... Sabres D Cody Franson is expected to be out with an undisclosed ailment and be replaced by D Mike Weber, a native of Cranberry ... Sabres C Tyler Ennis (undisclosed) and C Cody McCormick (blood clot) are on injured reserve.
Did you know? Buffalo’s Dan Bylsma is one of two people to coach the Penguins and Sabres. The other is Hockey Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman.
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez.
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