Sidney Crosby is finally off the schneid, and he couldn't have picked a better time.
The Pittsburgh Penguins captain took a pass from Bryan Rust in the high slot and snapped a shot that beat Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy high blocker just 40 seconds into overtime, leading the Penguins to a 3-2 win in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final.
The Pens talked about resilience before this contest, and they followed it up with action on Monday night. They got the fast start they wanted, with Chris Kunitz breaking in alone just five seconds into the game. Vasilevskiy, starting in place of the injured Ben Bishop, had the answer for that bid, but was beaten just over four minutes later by Matt Cullen. The fourth liner pounced on a rebound of an Eric Fehr shot to stake Pittsburgh to a 1-0 lead.
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Phil Kessel extended it to 2-0 five minutes later, again on a rebound. But just when it seemed like Pittsburgh had the game under control, the Lightning tied it up. Anton Stralman, playing in his first game since breaking his leg on Mar. 25, pulled the Bolts to within one at 16:37 of the first. Jonathan Drouin tied it up at 19:50, coming out of the box and and beating Matt Murray with a laser through the seven hole.
The two sides remained scoreless through the rest of regulation, although the Penguins had the better of the chances. They dominated the third period, outshooting the Lightning 16-6 but couldn't get the go-ahead goal in regulation.
With the win, Pittsburgh ties the series at one game apiece. Game 3 goes Wednesday night in Tampa (8:00 PM ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS).
Here are some quick hits on Game 2:
Crosby had gone eight games between goals, tying the longest drought of his playoff career, but if the frustration was wearing on him it didn't show in his effort. He was outstanding in this contest, landing six shots on net, but it wasn't until the last one that he finally broke through.
The Lightning appeared to be heading the other way just before the winner when Stralman corralled the puck at center ice. But he bobbled his pass, allowing Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin to take possession. He quickly turned it around the other way, sending it to Rust who gained the zone and fed Crosby. He held the puck for a moment until Victor Hedman was between him and the net, then used the big defender as a screen. Vasilevskiy, who has stopped 63 of 67 shots in this series, didn't have a chance.
The goal was the first playoff overtime winner of Crosby's career.
Highlight of the Night
With his team's offense stalled midway through the second period, Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan threw Evgeni Malkin out on the top line with Crosby and Patric Hornqvist. It didn't take long for the new unit to click. On their first shift togther, Malkin drove down the left wing, fought off a check from Hedman and smacked a pass through the crease. Crosby picked it up on his backhand and shoveled a shot toward a gaping cage for a sure go-ahead goal...until Vasilevskiy shoved off his post, slid over and somehow got a glove on it just before it crossed the line.
Best save of the playoffs? Judge for yourself:
Could Crosby have placed the shot better? Sure. But that takes nothing away from the dazzling athleticism and focus of Vasilevskiy.
Notable Number: 5
Judging by his play in Game 2 you'd never guess Stralman was seeing his first action since fracturing his leg on Mar. 25. Sure, the veteran defender suffered a case of the yips on the Penguins’ first goal, but he quickly rounded into form.
"Stralman is Stralman," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the game. "He's a thinking man's defenseman. He knows where to be. And I just thought he got
stronger as he went on."
He was a steadying presence on the back end, and made an instant impact offensively. His first period goal was something special, a perfect finish off a Jonathan Marchessault feed that proved there was no rust on his stick. The goal continued a season-long hot streak against Pittsburgh, marking his fifth tally in just four games against the Penguins.
"I think him scoring that goal was big for him, to [get him] right back into the game," Cooper said. "He's a really important player for us, and for us to move on out of this series, we're going to need him."
What It Means
The Pens dug themselves out of a very deep hole with the win. Now, they head to Tampa feeling like they have a handle on this series after outshooting, out-chancing and outplaying the Bolts in Game 2. There are questions to be answered, though. Can they afford to keep rolling Crosby with Malkin as they did for much of this contest? It makes for a beastly line, but it also makes them an easier team to defend, even if the Kessel-Nick Bonino-Carl Hagelin unit is going good. And is Murray up to the challenge between the pipes? The 21-year-old didn't look sharp on either goal, and his body language suggested he was feeling the weight of the moment. That said, he shut the door after allowing the Drouin goal, and gave his team a chance to win.
Tampa Bay will be disappointed to let this one get away, but it has to be happy with a split on the road... especially after another nothing game from their top line. You have to believe that Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov will make their mark on this series eventually, but they have to be more engaged than they were in Pittsburgh.
And while this one went the way of the Penguins, the Lightning showed some resilience of their own by fighting back from that early 2-0 deficit. Both goals were scored shortly after they'd successfully killed off a penalty and helped them salvage a period in which they'd been widely outplayed. They haven't shown the Pens their A game yet. They might want to bring it Wednesday night.