The opportunity was gone. The chance had slipped through their fingers. The game had been blown.
And now, the players of the Tampa Bay Lightning, were already talking about their next turn.
The Lightning, with an opportunity to get to its second consecutive Stanley Cup Final, were badly outskated by the Pittsburgh Penguins for most of Tuesday night’s game. The Lightning lost, 5-2, to force Game Seven on Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
“We have one game to get to the Stanley Cup Finals,” said forward Ryan Callahan.
“What a great opportunity,” said forward Brian Boyle, who scored both Lightning goals. “This is a terrific chance to do something.”
Never mind that the Bolts managed only four shots in the first period, and only 11 in the first two. Never mind that, after a disallowed goal by the Lightning (offsides), the Penguins made the Lightning play chase.
“We just weren’t skating,” Boyle said. “I don’t know if we didn’t want to get beat. Whatever it was, it wasn’t what we needed to do.”
The situation is almost identical to last year’s series against the New York Rangers. Again, the Bolts had a chance to close out the Eastern Conference Finals, but instead laid an egg in a lopsided loss. This time, ditto.
The Penguins’ best players took control of this one. Phil Kessel scored his ninth goal of the playoffs. Kris LeTang scored his second and Sidney Crosby his sixth.
Boyle scored twice to help the Lightning come within 3-2, but the Penguins scored two goals in the final 3:48 (one an empty netter) to even the series.
“I don’t think we were attacking enough, and obviously we weren’t creating enough in their end,” Callahan said. “We were a lot of one-and-dones, not getting pucks through. We spent a lot of time in our own end.”
“Their best players played better than ours for 40, and ours probably played better than theirs for 20,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
So far, the Bolts have had trouble getting to the dressing room. They’ve given up five goals in the last 90 seconds of a period.
“I guess you can sit here and say giving up a goal in the last minute is not ideal,” Cooper said, “but I just think giving up goals is not ideal. Whether you score them in the first minute or the last minute, it doesn’t matter. You are still giving up a goal. Unfortunately, you put yourself behind three, regardless of when they score them, (Pittsburgh) still scored three. It’s tough to form a comeback. Just like when we scored four a couple games ago and it’s tough for them to comeback. It’s magnified because it’s the last minute, I guess, but 3-0 is 3-0 no matter when they score.”
The teams play Thursday night at 8.