Pittsburgh Penguins vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray, who returned to the crease after being Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup in Game 5, made 28 saves while teammates Sidney Crosby and Nick Bonino scored a goal and an assist each to lead the Penguins to a 5-2 win in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The best-of-seven series is tied 3-3 and returns to Pittsburgh for Game 7 Thursday night (8:00 pm ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
“These are the types of circumstances where you can write your own story and that’s what we wanted to do,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan following his club’s win. “There are certain things that go on out there that you can’t control but what you can control is your attitude, your determination, your work ethic, your never-say-die mindset and I think this group has it. I think they believe in one another. I think they sincerely care about each other and they play hard for one another and I think when you have that dynamic on a team where they play for each other and I know we had a determined group tonight and we were going to do all they can to bring it (series) back to Pittsburgh and they did that tonight.”
The Lightning started the game looking like a team that would accomplish its goal of wrapping up the series and appeared on its way when Jonathan Drouin scored at 5:12 of the first period but it was called back when Sullivan challenged the goal for offsides. The video review proved that the play was offside at the Penguins blue line.
The contest remained a 0-0 affair until Phil Kessel scored a power play goal for Pittsburgh at the 18:46 mark of the first period. Evgeni Malkin started the play with a shot from the point that went wide of the Lightning net. Kessel relayed the puck out of the corner and back to the left point to Kris Letang. Letang immediately sent the disc over to Malkin, who passed it to Crosby, who was stationed in the lower part of the left faceoff circle. His cross-crease pass was deflected into the air and Kessel batted it into the net from the right of Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Letang added to the Penguins lead at 7:40 of the second period. Bonino carried the puck into the neutral zone along the left wing then passed it to Conor Sheary in the middle of the zone. Sheary skated it into the Lightning end of the ice toward the right wing and moved it to Letang, who cut into the middle of the ice and unleashed a wrist shot that beat Vasilevskiy to his blocker side giving Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead.
With 26 seconds remaining in the second period, Crosby gave his club a 3-0 lead when he took control of a Hornqvist pass just outside of the Tampa Bay zone. The Penguins captain accelerated the puck into the Lightning end, beat a Tampa Bay defenseman with an inside-out move while protecting the puck then put a wrist shot through Vasilevskiy’s pads.
Just when you thought the Penguins would cruise to an easy victory, the Lightning showed why they can never be counted out. They forechecked furiously in the third period and put 20 shots at Murray.
Brian Boyle cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 3-1 at 5:30 of the third period when his centering pass from the left wing boards deflected off Kessel and landed behind Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray in the back of the net.
Boyle scored his second goal of the night at the 12:43 mark of the period. Drouin skated the puck into the Pittsburgh end along the left wing. He passed back to teammate Slater Koekkoek, who passed across the ice to Boyle, who reeled off a blistering wrist shot that went top shelf over Murray’s blocker side shoulder and it was a one-goal game with the Lightning trailing 3-2.
Despite Tampa Bay throwing everything at Murray, it was Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust who was sent in on Vasilevskiy on a breakaway after defenseman Olli Maata worked the puck out of his corner and up the boards to Chris Kunitz. Kunitz moved it into center ice to a breaking Rust, who showed a forehand shot then deked to his backhand, before going back to his forehand to beat Vasilevskiy’s outstretched left pad to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead at 17:52 of the third period.
Bonino put the finishing touch on the contest for Pittsburgh with an empty net goal assisted by Ben Lovejoy with 54 seconds to play in the third period.
“You go through different experiences and you learn how hard it is to get these opportunities so, if anything, it’s just having an appreciation for how hard it is to get to this point and, as a group, we’ve been through a lot and want to make the most of this opportunity,” Crosby said about a pending Game 7.
Stat of the Night:
Pittsburgh is 47-1-0 when leading after two periods in 2015-16 (regular season and playoffs).
Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay will play a Game 7 for the second time in as many playoff meetings. The Lightning won 1-0 in Game 7 of the 2011 Conference Quarterfinals.
Per Elias Sports Bureau, Matt Murray is the first rookie goalie in Penguins history to record a win with his team facing elimination.
Sidney Crosby’s Game 5 goal was his 3rd game-winning goal of the Conference Finals. It was his 49th career playoff goal.
Sidney Crosby is the second Penguins player to score 3 game-winning goals in one playoff series (Kevin Stevens: 3 in 1991 Division Finals vs Washington).
One player in Stanley Cup Playoffs history has scored 4 game-winning goals in a single series: New York Islanders Mike Bossy vs Boston in 1983 Conference Finals.
Phil Kessel’s 9 postseason goals are the most by a Penguins player since 2009 (Crosby: 15, Malkin: 14).
Most playoff goals among active players: Jagr-78, Marleau-64, Zetterberg-57, Hossa-52, Kane-49, Crosby-49.
Brian Boyle’s two goals in Game 5 were his 1st career multi-goal game in the postseason.
Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Playoffs Schedule:
Game 6 – Western Conference Finals – St. Louis Blues at San Jose Sharks (9:00 pm ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). San Jose leads the best-of-seven series 3-2.
Follow ESPN New Hampshire’s NHL Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.