Sidney Crosby, Penguins down Lightning to force Game 7

Sidney Crosby.

The Eastern Conference final is going the distance.

Sidney Crosby’s beautiful second-period goal held up as the winner in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6. Crosby has scored the winning goal in all three of the Penguins wins in the series.

On Tuesday, his winner came on a great individual effort as he got the puck in the neutral zone, danced through the Lightning defense and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The goal made it 3-0 and the Penguins seemed to be cruising. But Brian Boyle scored twice early in the third period make things interesting. Just as Penguins fans were getting nervous, Bryant Rust scored on a breakaway late to put the game out of reach.

The complexion of the game, and indeed the series, could have changed dramatically if a Lightning goal wasn’t called back early in the first period. A Jonathan Drouin goal five minutes into the game was called back after the Penguins challenged. Drouin was ruled offside on the play, thanks to the now-controversial ruling that his skate was in the zone despite it being in the air.

Phil Kessel scored his ninth goal of the playoffs on a power play later in the first after the Lightning were penalized for the dreaded puck-over-glass delay of game and the Pens were on their way to the win.

It was the second year in a row the Lighting failed to win Game 6 of the East final at home. Last year, they rebounded to beat the Rangers in Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup final. The Penguins present a more formidable challenge.

There shouldn’t be a goaltending controversy after the Penguins wisely went back to youngster Matt Murray for Game 6. He was solid, making 28 saves and leaving no doubt he should be the man for the Penguins the rest of the way.

While it would make a great narrative don’t expect injured Lightning stars Steven Stamkos or Ben Bishop to ride in to save the day in Game 7. Both players have been skating and improving but won’t be ready for Thursday.

 

Matt Murray, Brian Elliott and the perils of flip-flopping goalies in the playoffs

Scott Audette & Nick Lust/Getty Images

Playoff goaltending has become an inviting scab in the 2016 playoffs. It’s best left alone, but too many teams can’t resist the urge to scratch and pick at it until it bursts open and creates a mess.

The Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks couldn’t figure out what to do with their creases and, at least in the Stars’ case, it played a hand in their eliminations. The Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues let their goalies be for two rounds but couldn’t help but tinker when the going got tough in their conference final matchups. Now they find themselves on the brink of elimination, evidently with little trust in any of their goaltenders. Each team announced Tuesday it was swapping its original playoff starter back in for a do-or-die for Game 6: Matt Murray for Pittsburgh and Brian Elliott for St. Louis. But is it too little, too late?

The Penguins fiddled with something that may or may not have needed fiddlin’, removing rookie Matt Murray for Marc-Andre Fleury for Game 5 of a 2-2 series at home versus the Tampa Bay Lightning. Yes, Fleury is the Pens’ all-time wins leader and started in the regular season for them when healthy. Yes, he has a Stanley Cup ring. But his playoff history since winning the Cup in 2009 has been checkered at best, and he hadn’t played a game since March 31. It was a bold move to toss Fleury into a tied Eastern Conference final series with that much rust. Especially when Murray had been solid throughout the post-season. His play had slipped a bit, as he’d allowed three or more goals in four of his past six starts entering Game 5, but that happens. Goalies have ups and downs over regular seasons and playoffs. Murray had still won nine times in 13 games overall, posting a .923 save percentage, so it was risky to toss a cold Fleury in for Game 5.

And it showed. Fleury looked stiff and/or got caught cheating on several Tampa goals. No disrespect to Flower, a steady and underrated netminder, but starting him this late in the post-season run looked like a mistake in Game 5. The Penguins will attempt to erase it by reinstalling Murray in the crease for Game 6.

Not that everyone feels starting Fleury in Game 5 was the wrong call, however, including people with far more goaltending expertise than me.

“Fleury got hurt, but it wasn’t from poor play,” said TSN analyst and former NHL goalie Jamie McLennan, who believes Fleury should’ve been named Game 6 starter as well. “I know Murray took over, that’s great, and he gets you there, but his play has started to erode a little bit. So you go back to Fleury, but you give him one chance? Sidney Crosby was bad in Game 5. Do you sit him out? Sometimes people overthink things.

Read more

Matt Murray gets call to start Game 6 with Penguins facing elimination

Jared Clinton
Matt Murray (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Matt Murray’s play has helped the Pittsburgh Penguins get by the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, and now Mike Sullivan is hoping Murray can keep his magical post-season going because the Penguins coach has decided to turn back to the 21-year-old to keep the Penguins’ season alive.

Sullivan confirmed Tuesday that Murray will be getting the start in goal for Pittsburgh in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final with the Penguins facing elimination for the first time in the series and for the first time all post-season. Murray’s start comes after the Penguins went away from the rookie netminder for Game 5 and instead put veteran Marc-Andre Fleury in goal.

Fleury was OK, not great, and allowed four goals against on 25 shots, including the overtime-winner just 53 seconds into the extra frame. And though Fleury was good all season, Game 5 was his first start in 52 days and first full game since returning from his second concussion of the season. Fleury may have been rusty and there’s always the chance he could have turned in a good performance in Game 6 now that he’s been back in action, but Sullivan said the Penguins can’t afford to find out if Fleury’s late-game play was simply a matter of Fleury getting back to game speed.

“At this particular point in the season, we don’t have the luxury of allowing players to play through things,” Sullivan said. “We have to win a game. We have to win a hockey game. And that’s how we looked at it.” Read more

Facing goaltending decision again, Sullivan says starter won’t be named until Tuesday

Jared Clinton
Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final was the first game Marc-Andre Fleury had started this post-season and the first time he had been in goal since the final day of March. After a rocky performance in the late stages of Sunday’s game, though, Fleury could find himself back on the sidelines.

Fleury allowed four goals against on 25 shots Sunday evening, which included a questionable game-tying goal following some poor rebound control and an overtime winner that came before fans could even get settled in their seats for the extra frame. And though Tyler Johnson’s backside was in the right place to deflect home Jason Garrison’s shot for that winning goal, it’s arguable the game shouldn’t have even made it to overtime. Even Penguins coach Mike Sullivan admitted Fleury didn’t look as great as the game wore on.

“I thought Marc made some big saves for us, especially early in the game,” Sullivan said. “I thought he really settled into the game in the first period and made some real big saves. He might have got away from it a little bit as the game went on. And to Marc’s defense, it’s a tough situation when you haven’t played in a long time and you get thrown into a high stakes environment like that.” Read more

Lightning take Game 5 in overtime and Penguins have big decision to make going forward

Jared Clinton
The Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate their overtime-winning goal (Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)

After Penguins coach Mike Sullivan made one of the biggest decisions of the post-season in starting Marc-Andre Fleury over Matt Murray for Game 5, the Pittsburgh bench boss will have yet another major choice to make going forward. Because after Fleury allowed four goals on 25 shots, including an early overtime-winner to Tyler Johnson, the Penguins have questions once again in goal.

It wasn’t that Fleury was entirely poor, though. Through the first 40 minutes of the contest, Fleury stopped all but two of the 13 shots he faced, and it’s not as if the first two goals he allowed could be blamed on him. First, it was Alex Killorn who found the sliver of daylight over Fleury’s shoulder. Then it was Nikita Kucherov scoring on a no-doubter little more than a minute later.

However, the rebound that led to Kucherov’s second goal of the game on a wraparound with 3:16 left in the third period wasn’t pretty. Johnson threw a weak backhand on goal with next to no net-front pressure, and though Fleury blocked it away, the puck landed right on Kucherov’s stick to set up the wraparound tying goal.

And even if it’s the poor rebound control that led to Kucherov’s tying goal, it’ll be game-winning goal that that leads Sullivan to question who starts Game 6. A simple shot from the left wing boards from Jason Garrison deflected off the back of Johnson for the game-winning tally, and though the puck changed direction in a big way, Fleury probably should have turned the shot aside. Instead, the Lightning took home a 4-3 overtime victory: Read more

Penguins’ Daley has broken ankle, won’t return this post-season

Jared Clinton
Trevor Daley (via NHL.com)

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley fell to the ice in pain midway through Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final, crawled to the front of the net wincing and was unable to put any pressure on his left leg while leaving the ice. The optics of Daley’s injury had Penguins fans thinking the worst, and those fears were confirmed Sunday.

When Penguins coach Mike Sullivan addressed the media Sunday, he announced that Daley, 32, will be out for Game 5 and is done for the post-season after suffering a broken ankle. In Daley’s place will be 21-year-old Olli Maatta, who has been a healthy scratch for the past three games of the post-season. Sullivan said he’s confident in the youngster, but acknowledged how tough Daley will be to replace.

“He’s really made our team a better team,” Sullivan said. “(Daley’s) a mobile guy. He can move the puck. He’s got real good offensive instincts. He’s a real solid two-way defenseman, and it’s hard to replace those guys, but we’ve done it all year, and we’ll deal with it again.” Read more

Marc-Andre Fleury will get first start of playoffs in Game 5 of Eastern Conference final

Jared Clinton
Marc-Andre Fleury (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Matt Murray’s carriage didn’t exactly turn back into a pumpkin, but his four goals against in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final were enough to halt his Cinderella story run, at least momentarily.

Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan announced Sunday that Marc-Andre Fleury will get the start in Game 5 of the conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, ending what had been a run of 13-straight starts for Murray, the 21-year-old upstart who has been one of the best stories of the playoffs. Sullivan said the choice to go with the veteran Fleury wasn’t an easy one.

“Lots of things went into the decision,” Sullivan said. “I’d rather not elaborate on the details of it, but certainly we had lengthy discussions. It’s an important decision for a hockey team. We’re trying to make the best decision that’s we can, that we think gives our team the best chance to win. And that’s the route, or the direction, that we chose to take for this game.” Read more

Penguins’ Sullivan says Game 5 goaltending decision is ‘a nice problem to have’

Jared Clinton
Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said he’ll wait at least one more day to make what could be the biggest decision of his tenure behind Pittsburgh’s bench.

Sullivan has not yet announced which netminder — 21-year-old Matt Murray or veteran Marc-Andre Fleury — will get the call in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final Sunday. The decision comes after Murray, who has been the Penguins’ starter for nearly the entire post-season, allowed four goals on 30 shots through two periods of action in Friday’s Game 4. Murray was pulled after two frames in favor of Fleury.

It was Fleury’s first appearance in 50 days and in 18:26 of action the 31-year-old stopped all seven shots he faced. The Penguins nearly completed an improbable comeback by notching three goals in the third period, and Pittsburgh’s performance with Fleury in goal has Sullivan contemplating a possible change between the pipes. Read more