(The Sports Xchange) - The Tampa Bay Lightning jumped out to a 4-0 lead then gave up three goals in the third period before holding on for a 4-3 Game Four victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena on Friday to even the Eastern Conference finals series.
”I didn’t think we ever lost control of the game,“ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. ”Give Pittsburgh credit. They played loose, they played hard, they tried to make a game of it, which they did.
“But I never was sitting there saying ‘This game’s in trouble for us,’ and I think everybody on the bench thought that and the result ended up saying the same thing.”
After giving up 48 shots in a 4-2 loss on Wednesday, the Lightning were in control from the start and scored 27 seconds into the game.
Three goals assisted by defenseman Victor Hedman matched a Lightning playoff record.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy took a shutout into the third before things got interesting.
Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel ended the shutout early in the third, scoring his eighth goal of the playoffs just 1:18 into the final period to make it 4-1. The Penguins pulled goalie Matthew Murray for the first time in the postseason, putting in Marc-Andre Fleury for the third period and his debut in this year’s playoffs.
Pittsburgh added a goal from Evgeni Malkin -- his fourth of the playoffs -- to pull within 4-2 with 8:47 remaining. Pittsburgh got a power play 13 seconds later, and converted with 6:52 left as Chris Kunitz hammered home a rebound to cut the lead to 4-3.
“I think they were just a little more desperate,” Penguins’ Sidney Crosby said. “We didn’t have the desperation we needed early on, until we got behind four goals and we found it. We put ourselves in a big hole there.”
The best-of-seven series continues on Sunday in Pittsburgh before returning to Tampa on Tuesday.
The Penguins saw defenseman Trevor Daley helped off the ice in the second period with a lower-body injury after he went awkwardly into the boards behind the Pittsburgh net. He did not return to the game and reportedly left the arena on crutches.
Up 2-0 after one period, the Lightning stayed in control, then took advantage with a four-minute power play, with Hedman feeding Jonathan Drouin for his third goal of the series and a 3-0 lead.
The extended power play came after Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang shot the puck after the whistle and it hit Drouin, setting off a scuffle that would result in Letang getting two minutes each for cross-checking and roughing.
Hedman took a cut to the neck on a high-stick that was not called, and the goal came shortly after his return to the ice, three minutes exactly into the power play.
“I have no excuse,” Letang said after the game. “I should be on the ice. I should be more disciplined.”
Tampa Bay made it 4-0 with 2:12 left in the second -- Tyler Johnson, who had taken a puck to the face in warmups, was credited with his sixth goal of the playoffs, but all he did was let Nikita Kucherov’s cross pass hit his shin and bounce into the goal.
Tampa Bay, coming off back-to-back losses for the first time in this postseason, took the lead on the first shot of the night. A long shot from Hedman was redirected in front of the net by Ryan Callahan and past Murray for his second goal of the playoffs.
The Lightning, playing again without top goalie Ben Bishop or leading scorer Steven Stamkos, got strong play from Vasilevskiy in net. Tampa Bay had only four power plays in the first three games of the series, but earned two in the first eight minutes of the game Friday.
Johnson, who took a puck to the face in warmups when a shot caromed off the post, played through the injury -- at first, he wore a full cage to protect his face, switching to a clear shield over his face midway through the first period.
“Now the talk is somebody should shoot one into Johnny’s mouth now in warmups now for Game 5. I thought he had a hell of a game,” Cooper said. “He should probably keep the cage on again in warmups.”
Tampa Bay made it a 2-0 lead with 5:32 left in the first, as Kucherov made a stellar cross-zone pass to hit defenseman Andrej Sustr on the far side of the net, and he scored for his first goal of the playoffs.
Editing by Peter Rutherford