PITTSBURGH -- — The Tampa Bay Lightning finally grabbed a lead and regained some of their swagger in the process.
A night after a loss to Buffalo that included giving up three goals in the third period, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions had their most complete performance of the young season.
Brayden Point's backhand 31 seconds into the second gave the Lightning their first lead in regulation this season. When Palat and McDonagh beat Tristan Jarry twice just past the game's midway point, the Lightning could exhale a bit for the first time in a long time.
“There’s a lot of talk about back-to-backs and how hard they are,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "Sometimes back-to-backs are needed. We needed a game right after (Monday) night. I had a good feeling the guys would respond. They certainly did tonight.”
Mikhail Sergachev and Alex Killorn added third-period goals for Tampa Bay, and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 28 shots for the Lightning, who won in Pittsburgh for just the fourth time in their last 17 visits.
The game also gave the Lightning a small measure of revenge after the short-handed Penguins topped them 6-2 in Tampa Bay in the season opener two weeks ago, putting a bit of a damper on a night the Lightning raised their 2021 Stanley Cup banner to the rafters.
Tampa Bay looked a step slow that night and is still searching for its footing early on in their bid for a “three-peat,” but on Tuesday the Lightning did flash the quick-strike ability that's become their trademark during their run at the top.
Pittsburgh — playing without injured stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — made an extended push to draw even in the middle of the second period. The Penguins pinned the Lightning deep into their own end for over a minute. Vasilevskiy made a couple of key saves and shortly after the Lightning cleared the zone, they pounced.
McDonagh broke it open 10 seconds later when the Lightning controlled the ensuing faceoff and Steven Stamkos skated behind the Pittsburgh net, giving McDonagh enough room to get open for a one-timer that gave the Lighting an opportunity to relax.
“They're a high-powered offense and you give them the opportunity to play offense like that, they’re going to take advantage of it,” Penguins forward Jason Zucker said.
FIRST REGULATION LOSS
The Penguins saw their hot start minus Crosby and Malkin come to an end. Pittsburgh fell to 3-1-2, the first time in six games they've failed to record a point. Zucker's third-period goal spoiled Vasilevskiy's bid for a shutout but Jarry wasn't quite as crisp as usual while making 26 saves.
“I thought our team competed hard,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I think we put ourselves in a position to win the hockey game. I don’t think the score was indicative of how the game was.”
Pittsburgh appeared to take the lead with 5:16 left in the first period when Brock McGinn followed his shot from the right circle and raced to the net to tap in the rebound. The goal was waved off because officials blew the whistle, even though the puck never stopped moving.
Sullivan said referee Marc Joannette came over and apologized afterward for losing sight of the puck.
“I was appreciative of his honesty,” Sullivan said. "That’s hockey, there’s a human element sometimes to it.”
Crosby participated in an optional skate Tuesday morning and is nearing a return after undergoing left wrist surgery in early September.
Sullivan joked he's confident his team's longtime captain will get his spot in the lineup back whenever he's cleared by medical officials.
PLAYING FROM AHEAD
The last time the Lightning led in regulation before Tuesday night was Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final on July 7, on their way to a 1-0 victory and the franchise's third title.
So, yeah, being in front was kind of nice.
“It helps out in a lot of areas,” McDonagh said. "It just creates more momentum for you, makes the other team press a little bit. You keep it simple and keep going north and forecheck, you get more goals that way. It was a good sign for us.”
Lightning: Returns home for two games, starting Thursday against Arizona.
Penguins: Continues an eight-game homestand Thursday night when Calgary visits.