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Lightning lose goal, lose pucks and lose chance to end Penguins

TAMPA, Fla. – It happened again. 

The Tampa Bay Lightning, with a chance to close out their opponent in the Eastern Conference Final, lose Game 6 on home ice. All the Lightning talked about leading up to Tuesday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins were the lessons they learned from last season’s blowout loss to the New York Rangers in the same scenario.

About not squandering opportunities like this. About outplaying a foe that they knew would enter their building skating for their playoff lives.

And yet it happened again.

“It’s disappointing. Nothing we can do about it now,” said forward Brian Boyle, who scored twice in the third period of their 5-2 loss to the Penguins.

The Lightning were sloppy with the puck, turning it over 17 times. Consider that they had one giveaway in the entirety of their Game 5 win.

“They feed off the transition, so when we’re turning the puck over it seems they gain the momentum, and they get opportunities and we spend time in our end. We’re at our best when we’re managing the puck and we don’t do that they grab the momentum really quickly,” said forward Ryan Callahan.

“We weren’t getting out of the zone. They outworked us at times during the first 40, and we can’t let that happen.”

The Lightning lost the first 40 minutes of Game 6, generating 11 shots on goal to the Penguins’ 26. But how much do those first 40 minutes change were it not for the coach’s challenge the Penguins won, wiping away a Jonathan Drouin goal because the young Lightning forward crossed the blue line a fraction before defenseman Victor Hedman did?

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said it started with a phone call from video coach Andy Saucier.

“It was a huge moment in the game. Sauce, our video guy saw it, and radioed it. It was close enough that we wanted to challenge it. It was a great call by him, because it was a big part of the game. If they get the first goal, it lights up the building, and moment gets difficult,” said Sullivan.

“Our team got a boost from it. We knew we dodged a bullet there.”

Boyle acknowledged that losing the goal on a close offside call was an early frustration for the Lightning. “It is what it is. I can’t say too much about it. Didn’t seem like it would be, but it might have been,” he said. 

The Penguins would scored on a 5-on-3 power play later in a period that they dominated, and then two more goals in the second period – including the fifth goal the Lightning have given up in these playoffs with less than 90 second remaining in a period.

“We can't spot a team like this a three-goal lead,” said coach Jon Cooper. “We had our chance to knock them out tonight. Give Pittsburgh a ton of credit for the way they played and how they handled things. They volleyed the ball into our court, and now it's time for us to smash it back.”

It’s not where the Lightning want to be, traveling back to Pittsburgh. But to earn another chance at the Cup, it’s going to have to happen again: Winning a Game 7 on the road in hostile territory.

Their lessons from last season didn’t apply to Game 6. Perhaps they still will yet.

“What I can take from last year is that when we went to Game 7, we won Game 7,” said Cooper. 

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