By: Nick Lanciani
Well, Evgeni Malkin made true on his words— there will be a Game 7 in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Sidney Crosby’s 6th goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs proved to be the game-winner for the Pittsburgh Penguins after a third period surge by the Tampa Bay Lightning, as Pittsburgh walked out of Amalie Arena on Tuesday night in Game 6 with a 5-2 win.
Matt Murray was in net for the Penguins after some speculation over whether or not Marc-Andre Fleury would return to the goal after his Game 5 flub in a 4-3 overtime comeback for Tampa on Sunday. Instead, it was Murray in goal for the Pens, staving off elimination for at least one more game day. Tuesday night was the first time this postseason that Pittsburgh was facing elimination.
Murray made 28 saves on 30 shots on goal for a .933 SV% in the 60 minute effort, while Andrei Vasilevskiy came up with just 29 saves on 33 shots faced for a .879 SV% in the loss.
After an overturned goal early into the first period, the Tampa Bay Lightning fell out of rhythm and the Pittsburgh Penguins settled in for an eventual 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
Here’s how it happened.
Lightning fans in attendance jumped from their seats as Jonathan Drouin thought he had scored on a beautiful rebound from Matt Murray into the wide open net vacated by an out of position Penguins goaltender (Murray). But with 14:48 to go in the first period, Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan, used his only coach’s challenge of the night to review the goal and see if the play entering the zone was offside.
As Tampa entered the zone, Drouin had lifted his left leg, which was trailing his already-in-the-offensive-zone- right leg as the puck just barely crossed the blue line, thereby making Drouin offside. Multiple angles confirmed it and the call on the ice was overturned. The Lightning were offside and had not scored as a result. Play resumed, scoreless.
Drouin’s overturned goal was the 8th overturned goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Evgeni Malkin added fuel to his own fiery passion for the game upon a retaliation infraction at 14:20 of the first period. Malkin received a two-minute minor penalty for slashing Tampa Bay captain, Ryan Callahan, and gave the Lightning their first power play of the night. The Bolts were unable to capitalize on the man advantage and the Penguins escaped a bad situation with one of their top forwards in the box with no harm.
Two penalties in a span of 41 seconds doomed the Lightning on their penalty kill unit’s first appearance of the night. Anton Stralman was called for interference on a subjectively early/on time hit, depending who you ask, on Tom Kuhnhackl at 17:09 of the 1st and Victor Hedman was called for delay of game for sending the puck over the glass at 17:50 of the 1st period. With Tampa’s top defensive pair (Stralman and Hedman) in the box, Pittsburgh went to work on a 5-on-3 power play opportunity.
Phil Kessel hacked at a flubbed pass from Sidney Crosby and ended up putting the puck at the back of the net for his 9th goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Crosby (9) and Malkin (9) picked up the assists on the power play goal at 18:46 of the period.
With the goal, the Lightning gained a man back on the penalty kill and were able to escape the ensuing 5-on-4 advantage for Pittsburgh unscathed.
After twenty minutes of play, the Penguins led 1-0 on the scoreboard and 14-4 in shots on goal, continuing their trend of outshooting the Lightning, as they entered Game 6 with a 196-131 shots on goal advantage over Tampa. The Bolts led in hits (7-6), faceoff wins (16-4), giveaways (7-3) and blocked shots (6-4), meanwhile Pittsburgh went 1/2 on the man advantage in the first and the Lightning went 0/1.
Tampa started the second period with an extra jump in their step that they quickly lost and found themselves trailing the Penguins all over the ice.
Kris Letang made it a 2-0 game with his 2nd goal of the playoffs scored on a nice wrist shot with a Penguin screening Vasilevskiy in front of the net. Conor Sheary (5) and Nick Bonino (12) notched the primary and secondary assists on Letang’s goal at 7:40 of the 2nd period.
Ondrej Palat slashed Carl Hagelin just past halfway in the second period and received a minor penalty, which put Pittsburgh on the power play at 10:06 of the period. The Penguins were unable to convert on the man advantage and the Lightning were successful on the penalty kill without committing too many turnovers.
With 25.6 seconds left in the period, Sidney Crosby made it a 3-0 game with his 6th goal of the playoffs on a wicked impressive wrist shot that beat Vasilevskiy. The lone assist went to Patric Hornqvist and was his 4th assist of the postseason.
Forty minutes were in the books and the Penguins looked all but sure to have the game easily wrapped up by the second intermission, but Tampa Bay’s Brian Boyle had other plans in mind, at least in terms of entertainment value for the Lightning fans that packed Amalie Arena on Tuesday night.
Five and a half minutes into the third period, Boyle fired a shot that bounced off a Pittsburgh skater and wound its way behind Murray to get Tampa on the board and cut the Penguins lead to two. The goal was Boyle’s 4th of the postseason and made it 3-1.
Trailing by two, the Lightning drummed up several more quality chances before finally breaking through Murray’s brick wall with another goal from Boyle. His 5th of the playoffs, Boyle’s second goal of the night was assisted by Slater Koekkoek (1) and Jonathan Drouin (9) at 12:43 of the 3rd period. Plenty of time left for Tampa to make things interesting.
But nearly five minutes after Brian Boyle earned his 1st career multi-goal playoff game, Bryan Rust skated in on Vasilevskiy on a costly breakaway.
With a deke and a forehanded shot that slid past Vasilevskiy’s leg pad, Rust scored his 3rd goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and put the Penguins back up by two. Chris Kunitz (5) and Olli Maatta (3) were credited with the assists on Rust’s goal at 17:52 of the third period in what was now a 4-2 game.
Neither team committed a penalty in the third period and both teams swapped a couple of chances before Jon Cooper had to make the call to pull Vasilevskiy in favor of an extra attacker with about 75 seconds left in the game.
Bonino promptly tallied an empty net goal for Pittsburgh at 19:06 of the third period and made it an unreachable three-goal lead. His 3rd of the playoffs, Bonino’s goal made it 5-2 and was assisted by Ben Lovejoy (2).
With the win, road teams improved to 42-41 this postseason. In the entire 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, road teams were 38-51. Pittsburgh improved to 47-1 when leading after two periods this season (regular and postseason combined). Their only loss came in Game 5 to the Lightning.
The Penguins last rallied from a 3-2 series deficit in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings. Having forced a Game 7 for Thursday night, the Penguins have a chance to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009. Tampa is looking to go to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history, having lost in last year’s Stanley Cup Final run to the defending champion, Chicago Blackhawks.
The Lightning also defeated the New York Rangers on the road in Game 7 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final, for the record.
Pittsburgh and Tampa have faced each other in a Game 7 only one other time in Stanley Cup Playoff history. They met each other in the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and the series came down to a 1-0 victory for the Lightning in Game 7 on the road at CONSOL Energy Center.
Some final stats from Game 6…
The Penguins led in shots on goal (34-30) and blocked shots (15-8), while the Lightning dominated in hits (26-18), faceoff wins (39-31), giveaways (17-7) and takeaways (8-6). Pittsburgh finished the night 1/3 on the power play and Tampa ended Tuesday’s action 0/1 on the man advantage.
The Lightning were still without Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos and it is unclear whether or not either one of them, if not both, may return for Game 7 on Thursday night in Pittsburgh at CONSOL Energy Center.
Puck drop for Thursday is scheduled for 8 PM ET and the game can be viewed on NBCSN in the United States and on CBC and TVA Sports in Canada.