Neal's overtime goal gives Penguins 3-2 win against Lightning, 3-1 series lead
Penguins players mob forward James Neal after he scored the in the second overtime of Wednesday's Game 4 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- There was, James Neal said, absolutely nothing scripted about any of it.
Not the circumstances. Not the shot.
And certainly not the storybook ending they conspired to create when he scored at 3:38 of double-overtime to give the Penguins a 3-2 victory against Tampa Bay and a 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series.
The Penguins will have a chance to close out the series with a victory in Game 5 at 12:08 p.m. Saturday. If the Lightning wins then, Game 6 will be Monday in Tampa.
Neal's winner was just his second goal since being acquired from Dallas as the trade deadline approached, but it's one of the most significant ones of the Penguins' season.
Had Tampa Bay won Game 4, the series would have been distilled to a best-of-three. As it is, the Penguins have a commanding lead and the momentum born of winning two games in a row on the road.
"We knew how big of a goal it would be go get that and make it 3-1," Neal said. "If they scored, [it would be] 2-2 going back into our barn, and it's a totally different series. So, it's a big one to pull out."
A rather unlikely one, as well.
Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson had a strong game and had turned aside 50 of the first 52 shots the Penguins threw at him. But No. 53 -- a puck Neal launched from along the right-wing boards -- sailed over his glove and into the net.
"I'm just trying to get it on net," Neal said. "Get it off hard and get it off quick."
The impact of his goal on the series is obvious; the effect it could have on him going forward could be greater.
Neal was brought in, in large part, because of his goal-scoring ability. He has a history, as coach Dan Bylsma noted before the game, of being a streak scorer.
If his goal Wednesday night puts him in any sort of groove, it would bode very well for the Penguins.
"It's so good for him to score," Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis said. "To see him squeezing the stick like he was was not right, I think. He's been working really hard."
Although scoring a goal has been something of a novelty for Neal since he joined the Penguins, it has pretty much become part of Arron Asham's game-night routine.
He did it again in Game 4 for the third time in the series. Only Lightning winger Martin St. Louis, with four, has more.
The difference is, St. Louis didn't get just five during the regular season, and does not log most of his minutes on a fourth line.
"It's always nice to help the team out," Asham said.
Help out? Heck, Asham almost cost Neal a chance to be the hero, because he nearly ended the game in the middle of the first overtime.
Jordan Staal fed him a pass in front of the Tampa Bay net, but Roloson was able to get his left leg on Asham's shot.
"I thought [Staal] was going to shoot that one," Asham said. "He surprised me with a pass."
But not as much as the Penguins surprised Tampa Bay by taking a two-goal lead for the second consecutive game.
Tyler Kennedy put them up, 1-0, at 8:14 of the opening period with a shot from just above and outside the left dot.
Eric Tangradi, making his NHL playoff debut in place of suspended left winger Chris Kunitz, had parked himself in front of Roloson and obscured his view enough that the Penguins were able to ring up their first power-play goal of the series.
Asham made it 2-0 at 2:39 of the second, when he put a Ben Lovejoy rebound off the skate of Lightning center Nate Thompson and between Roloson's legs from above the right hash.
The Penguins were in control until 17:14, when St. Louis pulled in a lead pass from Vincent Lecavalier and beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Sean Bergenheim of the Lightning then forced overtime by scoring during a scramble at 16:43 of the third.
The Penguins were not fazed. In fact, they were impressed.
"They come hard," center Max Talbot said. "They were obviously fighting back. You have to give them credit."
But the Penguins did not have to give them life. James Neal made sure of it.
First Published April 21, 2011 12:52 am