TAMPA — Watching the Lightning-Penguins showdown Thursday night in sold-out Amalie Arena, a couple of thoughts came to mind.
These might be the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.
And wouldn’t it be fun to see this matchup in a seven-game playoff series this spring?
The Lightning held on to beat the defending Stanley Cup champions 5-4 in a thrilling, bring-your-Rolaids kind of shootout in front of 19,092. Yes, it’s only October. And yes, Pittsburgh was in the second of back-to-back games and playing its backup goalie.
But that didn’t make this victory any less significant for Tampa Bay, which hadn’t beaten Pittsburgh since the 2016 Eastern Conference final. The Lightning lost all three meetings last season, when it stunningly missed the playoffs.
“We just won a hockey game against the defending champs,” coach Jon Cooper said. “So I think any coach would be happy to win the game.”
For all the hype surrounding the Lightning season, Cooper believed this week’s homestand — against the Capitals, Penguins and Blues on Saturday — would be a barometer. And to win the first two games, including Monday’s 4-3 come-from-behind overtime win over Washington, could be the boost Tampa Bay needs to get off to the kind of strong start that was elusive the past two seasons.
“Those two teams, the Capitals and Penguins, are both teams we’ve always had a lot of trouble with in the past couple years,” said Alex Killorn, who had a career-high four assists. “To get two wins at the beginning of the season against them in front of our home crowd, it’s huge momentum. We want to keep going, keep building.”
There was an unlikely hero for the Lightning, with defenseman Slater Koekkoek scoring his first two NHL goals, his second one the winner. Koekkoek, who played just three minutes Monday, scored …read more