Steven Stamkos has had one fight in his NHL career, so when the Lightning center Thursday night threw punches at the head of Pittsburgh’s Matt Niskanen, it was worth noting.
The dustup with 52 seconds left in Tampa Bay’s 4-1 victory over the Penguins at the St. Pete Times Forum was Stamkos’ reaction to seven cross-checks (a couple to the head) from Niskanen and Matt Cooke while on his back.
“I had enough,” Stamkos said, “so I took it into my hands a little bit.”
Tampa Bay (9-7-2) took things into its own hands against the No. 1 team in the East to snap a two-game losing streak and extend its home winning streak to six.
“A good team win,” Stamkos said.
The game went as the Lightning likes — and how it wishes it played on the road, where it is 3-6-2 — with a five-man defensive commitment, including a season-best 25 blocked shots led by Victor Hedman’s five. Goaltender Dwayne Roloson also was terrific with 33 saves.
Tampa Bay was outshot 34-18, including 14-6 in the second period, when Pittsburgh took 11 straight shots. But the Lightning, 6-1 at home, made its shots count with two goals by Vinny Lecavalier, one shorthanded into an empty net, and power-play goals by Brett Connolly and Steve Downie.
Including its Nov. 4 win over the Blackhawks, the Lightning has beaten the top team in both conferences.
“When you play against the best team in the league, you’re pumped for it,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “We were ready for this game.”
Boucher said he challenged his newly constructed line of Lecavalier, Stamkos and Marty St. Louis to be at its best defensively.
“And they showed the way for everybody that defense came first,” Boucher said. “And they got their offense because of it.”
Even when on the bench as Stamkos gave Connolly his stick after Connolly lost his during a second-period power play. Connolly, with that stick, scored to make it 2-0 with a deflection of Dominic Moore’s shot.
“(Stamkos) was awake on the bench and the only one who had his stick out, so I just grabbed it,” Connolly said. “It was a good play.”
And an appropriate reaction by Stamkos, Boucher said, when he was mugged in front of the Lightning net.
“It was ridiculous,” Boucher said. “One of the best players in the league is on the ice and you have two guys cross-checking him.”
“Maybe they were just frustrated,” said Stamkos, who got only a cross-checking penalty for retaliating before punching Niskanen, who was called for slashing. “But we’re going to stick up for ourselves and each other.”
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 7, 8:38. Penalties—Stamkos, TB (tripping), 6:10; Adams, Pit (interference), 10:21; Shannon, TB (goaltender interference), 12:02.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Connolly 4 (Moore, Bergeron), 4:08 (pp). Penalties—Kennedy, Pit (high-sticking), 2:29; Hedman, TB (hooking), 9:20; Cooke, Pit (hooking), 10:13; Hedman, TB (holding), 13:59.
Third Period—3, Tampa Bay, Downie 2 (Brewer, Stamkos), 2:04 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 8, 15:49 (en). 5, Pittsburgh, Kennedy 2 (Martin, Staal), 16:49. Penalties—Engelland, Pit (boarding), 1:06; Letang, Pit (cross-checking), 11:43; Purcell, TB (hooking), 13:31; N.Thompson, TB (high-sticking), 13:35; Neal, Pit (goaltender interference), 15:14; Brewer, TB (delay of game), 15:39; Niskanen, Pit (slashing), 19:08; Stamkos, TB (cross-checking), 19:08. Shots on Goal—Pittsburgh 7-14-13—34. Tampa Bay 5-6-7—18. Power-play opportunities—Pittsburgh 0 of 7; Tampa Bay 2 of 6. Goalies—Pittsburgh, Fleury 10-3-1 (17 shots-14 saves). Tampa Bay, Roloson 6-4-1 (34-33). A—18,509 (19,204).