Paced by Dwayne Roloson’s sparkling 27-save performance and clutch goal scoring, Tampa Bay outslugged the gritty Penguins 4-2 to force a winner-take-all Game 7 in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.
Determined to rebound from an 8-2 shellacking in Game 5, the Penguins capitalized on a puckhandling gaffe by Roloson to snatch the lead at 8:23 of the first period. Max Talbot pounced on the loose puck and fed a backhand pass to Pascal Dupuis in the slot. “Super Duper” snapped the puck home for his first goal of the series.
Buoyed by their stroke of good fortune, the Pens controlled the tempo until Kris Letang drew an interference penalty at 14:28. Once again, the Lightning’s high-octane power-play unit dominated the Pens’ game but outmatched penalty killers. Seconds after the penalty expired, Teddy Purcell gathered in a deflection off of Steve Downie’s skate and drilled the game-tying goal past Marc-Andre Fleury.
The opportunistic Lightning grabbed the lead early in the second period, thanks to a brilliant individual effort by Dominic Moore. Skating behind the Penguins’ net, Moore made a terrific pass against the grain to set up Sean Bergenheim, who popped the puck past Fleury from the side of the cage.
Down but far from out, “the Peskies” refused to fold. At 9:32 they had a golden opportunity to tie the game when Chris Conner was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down by Pavel Kubina. The speedy Pens’ winger—who narrowly missed on a pair of glorious chances earlier in the period—scooted toward Roloson but lost control of the puck.
Nonplussed, the Penguins continued to press the attack. Their hard work finally paid dividends at 3:48 of the third period. Tyler Kennedy shoveled the puck up the boards to Matt Niskanen, who flipped a pretty backhand pass to Jordan Staal in the high slot. The big center rifled the puck past Roloson to tie the score at 2-2.
The turning point came moments later when Talbot and Dupuis broke free in front of the Lightning net, only to be denied on three rapid-fire chances by Roloson. Tampa Bay quickly countered, as Downie slipped behind Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek and beat Fleury for the go-ahead goal.
Aided by a penalty to Ryan Malone, the black and gold regrouped for a final charge. While working with the man advantage Mike Rupp unleashed a hard shot from point-blank range, but Roloson made another huge save. Malone, who was a physical force against his ex-teammates all night long, drove the final nail into the Pens’ coffin at 9:34 when he blew a slap shot past Fleury on a breakaway.
Despite the tough loss, the Penguins remain upbeat.
“We’ve played them hard all series long,” James Neal said. “It comes down to one now. Lay it out on the line … do what we can, and come out with the win.”
“We know we can play,” Fleury added. “I’m still positive and think we can do it.”
Steve Downie (1 goal and 2 assists) earned the No. 1 star … The Penguins out-shot the Lightning 29-21 … Tyler Kennedy registered a game-high six shots … The Lightning dominated the Pens in faceoffs (35-23) and hits (28-21) … Marc-Andre Fleury allowed 8 goals on 35 shots (.771 save percentage) in Games 5 and 6 … The Pens have a series record of 1-11 when they lose Game 6.
The Penguins and Lightning square off for the series finale Wednesday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and colorful history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more. A must have for any true Penguins fan.