Can you say "backsliding", boys and girls?
During the 2nd intermission, my storyline was going to be "jet lag", as it took the Penguins the better part of two periods to wake up. Dmitri Afanasenkov in the first, Brad Richards in the second, and the Pens look like they're still at the airport, mesmerized by the baggage carousel. Mark Recchi must have drunk everybody else's coffee, because he was flying around the ice.
Finally, late in the second, the Pens get a break. On a delayed penalty, with the extra skater, Noah Welch kept the play alive on a fanned pass from Sergei Gonchar. It looked like the Tampa man would touch up to stop the play, but Welch was able to tap it back to Gonchar. Gonchar hit Sidney Crosby on the right half-boards, he skated a little deeper, then turned and threw it in front. Nils Ekman was in the slot, and Recchi was on the opposite post. Ekman got the tip-in at 15:37. Then, on a power play, Ekman got another tip-in on a slapshot from Ryan Whitney to tie the game at 2-2 at 18:19. A little over a minute later, Crosby, Ekman, and Colby Armstrong got a 3-on-2 break. Army gained the blue line a little right of center, dished it to Crosby on the boards, and Crosby made a perfect pass to Ekman streaking down the slot. Just like that, the Pens have a 3-2 lead.
For Ekman, it was not just his first NHL hat trick, it was the fastest natural hat trick in Penguin history: 4:10, besting Lowell MacDonald's 1973 record by seven seconds.
Unfortunately, that was the last pretty pass the Pens would complete on the evening. Not that they weren't trying in the third. In fact, they were trying to complete fancy passes entirely too often in the third. You want to get that careless with the puck against Tampa Bay? Prepare to get burned. Eric Perrin tied it at 3-3 early in the third, while the Pens spent their time spinning their wheels and not testing Johan Holmqvist.
Finally, in overtime, karma snapped back. Vincent LeCavalier sneaked behind the defense by the red line, and Martin St. Louis connected on the home-run pass. LeCavalier had a clean break, faked Marc-Andre Fleury down, and chipped home the backhand.
Final score, Lightning 4, Penguins 3, number of times I caught myself yelling "Shoot!" in the third: 4. (Yeah, that's how bad it's getting. I hate it when people yell "Shoot!")
- Nils Ekman (3G)
- Vincent LeCavalier (OT GWG)
- Brad Richards (1 PPG)