The Penguins have an obviously sticky situation on their hands going into game six in Tampa Bay. Their goalie situation is cloudy and their best defenseman was awful last night. The series must be over, right? Relax.
There is no excuses to be made. The Penguins defense was a dysfunctional mess last night without Trevor Daley. But they can’t just crawl into a corner and hide. In fact they have no mulligans anymore. Tampa Bay carries a 3-2 lead into game six at Amalie Arena flying higher than Wiz Khalifa on 4/20. But there is one word that the Penguins have followed all season long: Resiliency.
It’s obvious that every fan is succeptible to overreaction. But the Pens just lost consecutive games for the first time since January. It’s May. That’s a five month stretch for those of you who struggle to realize the math behind that.
It’s also the first time the Penguins have lost when leading after two period all season long. That’s incredible. 46-0-1 when leading after two periods. You can say they “choked it away” when it counts, but there is many reasons they came up short tonight.
Kris Letang was abysmal. That doesn’t excuse the rest of the defensive core and their play, but Letang was a -4. I’m not a huge fan of the +\- statistic, but when a team scores four goals and you’re out for all of them, it makes you look bad. Letang relatively stayed out of the penalty box tonight, only receiving one penalty, a pretty swell accomplishment for him.
However Letang was constantly skating backwards last night. He was hemmed in his own zone for much of the game and had twenty-four shots attempted against him last night. When Letang is skating backwards more than forwards and being given the opportunity to facilitate the offense, the team struggled as a whole and that was seen under Mike Johnston.
It’s no secret Letang wants to be, and has to be, better if the Penguins want to win these next two games and reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Now as far as the goalie situation goes…
Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t good Sunday night. Sure, the defense in front of him wasn’t great either. You could see the rust in Fleury. He was tested for the first time in nearly two months and it wore him down. He battles pucks all night long and didn’t look like Marc-Andre Fleury.
You can make any argument you want, but Fleury had to play tonight and the Penguins didn’t have a choice. Everyone knew rust was probably going to factor into his game somehow and it did. Fleury isn’t at fault for the game, but again wasn’t sharp enough to get the job done.
I’ve always believed the saying that great goalies will make the usual saves necessary to win a game. The elite goaltenders will make those saves and go above and beyond when the team needs them. I don’t care that Fleury was rusty, he needed to make the big saves when the team needed him and he let them down Sunday.
In my opinion I’m going to start Matt Murray on Tuesday. It’s not because Flower was the reason we lost. He’s not. It’s not because Murray’s better. He’s not. It’s not because Flower is “rusty”. He may be. It’s because Matt Murray got them to this point. It’s because Fleury’s career stats against the Tampa Bay Lightning are terrible. It’s because it’s game six and the Penguins are on the brink of elimination. It’s because it’s the Cup.
On the other end of the ice, we are seeing an elite goaltender possibly shaping right in front of our eyes. Andrei Vasilevskiy has been nothing short of incredible. He made a timely save on Chris Kunitz late in the third period to keep his team down by only one. The Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov then tied it less than three minutes later and the Lightning won in overtime.
Vasilevskiy has come up huge ever since starter Ben Bishop went down with a lower body injury. He hasn’t wavered in the least when the Penguins barreled on him with pressure. The Lightning were the clearly worse team for games 2&3 of the series and he almost stole both of those games.
I still am not ready to point fingers at just those two guys though. There is something the Penguins absolutely need to fix right now. Their ability to hold a multi-goal lead.
I know it sounds contradicting to the earlier statement that the Pens are 46-0-1 when leading after two. Many of those games, the Pens had multi-goal leads and let them slip away, only to win late in the third or overtime.
No team worthy of a Stanley Cup should get complacent. Every team that deserves a Stanley Cup needs to grab a team by the throat and throttle them harder and harder. If you have to win a game 7-0 to prove a point, then do it. Don’t get complacent because you own a big lead. The Penguins did that Sunday night and it but them right in their ass.
Despite pointing out all the things the Penguins need to fix to extend this series on Tuesday night, I never once said I don’t believe in this team. I never once said they can’t come back and win this series. They are a very resilient bunch and I’m nothing but confident going into game six. I actually have no doubt the Penguins could win this in seven games.
I don’t hear any fat ladies singing yet, so do yourself a favor. Stop being the terrible fans that 95% of you are and help rally the Penguins to a game seven back in the ‘Burgh where the Penguins will get the job done. If I can believe in this team, so can you.