Sunday night's game was a pivotal one in the Eastern Conference Finals series, and the Lighting are now on the verge of another trip to the Stanley Cup. It was the first time the Pittsburgh Penguins have lost back-to-back games since January. Great coaching and great playing from the Tampa Bay Lightning led to a win for them tonight.
The Penguins allowed Tampa to come at them tonight. When the Pens went up 2-0, they sat back and didn’t find a way to hold off Tampa’s rush at the end of the 3rd period.
Veteran Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had his first start since March, when he suffered a concussion. In Game 4 he replaced Matt Murray in the 3rd period, after the rookie goaltender let 4 goals by in the first 2 periods. Murray has played very well, but after this morning’s skate, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said, “Lots of things went into the decision. I'd rather not elaborate on the details of it, but certainly we had lengthy discussions. It's an important decision for our hockey team. We're trying to make the best decisions that we can that we think will give our team the best chance to win, and that's the route of the direction we chose to take for this game.”
This was Fleury’s 100th career playoff appearance. He always has a good regular season, but struggles in the playoffs; when he's not on his game, he lets some dandies in. It’s hard to tell if he’s not playing the puck properly or not having proper rebound control, but with the Penguins facing elimination, it will be interesting to see which goaltender they choose to play Game 6 Tuesday at Amalie Arena. Both are capable, and although Fleury took the loss tonight, he has much more experience as a netminder.
The Penguins also had to replace defenseman Trevor Daley after he suffered a broken left ankle in the last game. He will be out for the rest of the season.
The Lightning needed to press. They needed to get more shots on net. They needed to push their opponents, and that’s exactly what they did.
Tyler Johnson, the engine that made the run last year, now has 20 goals over the last two postseasons. He's dangerous when he gets going and a big reason the Lightning won this game (as well as the last one).
The first power play went to the Penguins when the Lightning’s Tyler Johnson was sent to the box for hooking against Sidney Crosby at 10:36. The Bolts controlled their guys well and killed the penalty.
The first goal was a doozie. Vasi blocked the shot by the Pens' Ryan Rust, and Brian Dumoulin came in for a second-chance opportunity to score on the rebound with less than 1 second left on the clock in the 1st.
A slow Lightning change at the start of the 2nd led to the Penguins' second goal by Patric Hornqvist.
Just under 8 min into the 2nd, the Lightning got their first crack at a PP and they failed to score with three good shots on goal.
Pittsburgh had another opportunity on the power play at 11:02 when Kucherov got sent to the box for holding against Bryan Rust. Directly after a great penalty kill, the Lightning made it a 2-1 game when Killorn launched one into the net.
In the span of a minute and ten seconds, Nikita Kucherov scored a second goal to make it a tie game.
Add another late period goal by the Penguins and at the end of the 2nd it was 3-2, Pens. Kunitz picked the puck up and put it right in the back of the net, beating Vasi to the punch; this was Kunitz' fourth goal of the playoffs.
The Lightning kept grinding away and in the last 4 minutes of the game, Kucherov scored his second goal of the night to send it into overtime. And while it wasn’t the best-looking goal, Johnson scored via a shot from Garrison that bounced off of his back to win the game in OT.
Vasilevskiy got another win, and in the past 4 games has stopped 168 shots on goal. He’s done his job and he’s done it well. He made some big saves tonight and never got rattled. At 21, we’re watching a maturing goaltender with a bright career in front of him.
The Penguins had been 46 and 0 when leading after 2 goals — another streak broken by the Lightning.
Post-game, Lighting head coach Jon Cooper reflected, “It was like we were climbing a mountain, and we were just taking every step, every step, and fortunately for us, we got to the top.”
Pittsburgh led in overall shots on goal 34 to 25 over the Lightning. In terms of decisiveness, though, that went to to Lightning. Now they're headed back home to Tampa, and are one win away from another trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second year in a row.
Game 6 of the best-of-seven series will be played on Tuesday, May 24th at Amalie Arena at 8 p.m.