TAMPA, FL - APRIL 25: Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins defends the net against Adam Hall #18 of the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the St. Pete Times Forum on April 25, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)
Just when fans thought a 3-1 lead was enough, the Lightning came back to post a big statement game in an 8-2 win over the Pens Saturday night. And then, just as we thought it would be a different story in Game 6 as the Pens headed down the Tampa Bay to take the series, the Lightning once again will not go down without a fight.
Monday's 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay ties the series and sends it back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 7. On one hand, the Penguins should not be in this position right now. On the other, there's no denying that Tampa has done everything right since the 3-1 hole to make this a real nail-biter.
Forgive me for trying to find some parity here, but I just couldn't help but look at these numbers. Since Steve Downie and Chris Kunitz each sat out Game 4 on April 20th, the two could not be further apart on the score sheet. Granted Tampa Bay has taken two wins since then, but that may very well be largely in part to the play of Steve Downie. Since his hit on Ben Lovejoy left him out of the lineup for one game, Downie has picked up one goal and four assists in two games. His lone goal helped Tampa take the lead for good in Game 6, further punctuated when former Penguin Ryan Malone blasted one past the glove of Marc-Andre Fleury.
Comparatively speaking, since his elbow to the head of Simon Gagne, Kunitz has registered zero goals, zero assists and currently holds a series plus-minus of -1. Had it not been for his goal in Game 1, we may be looking at zeros across the board for Koon. You have to hope, think, pray that he's saving it all for Game 7.
Because. as you no doubt no by now, Wednesday's game at Consol Energy Center is an all-or-nothing attempt to salvage what has already been an up-and-down season. Win? Advance. Lose? Call it a season.
Hopefully Chris Conner's penalty shot attempt - where he embarrassingly let the puck get away from him en route to the net - is not a metaphor for this series as a whole for the Penguins. Sadly, this made the "Can't Miss" section of NHL.com following the game.
It may not mean much in the face of a loss, but props to Jordan Staal for (finally?) picking up his first goal of the series. His third period tally tied the game at two before Downie and the Lightning took the lead, and eventually the win, shortly after.
Fleury wasn't as sharp as he could be, but there was no bigger defensive gaff than on the goal that allowed Downie to slip in for what wound up being the game-winner. Actually, scratch that. The slip up that allowed Malone to stride in untouched wasn't exactly a thing of beauty either. But that Downie goal just isn't sitting well with me, mainly because the Pens' defense allowed him to create that opportunity with his strong forecheck and ability to skate to the front of the net to pick up the loose puck. Gross. Fleury isn't the only one who has to sleep that one off.
Where this team has come from earlier in this series to where they are now as this thing heads back to Pittsburgh is a scary thing. And for the first time in probably six months, that is not a flattering statement. There's no doubt about it: this team needs to win Wednesday night. This isn't the only first round series that has been pushed to seven games, as both the Philly/Buffalo and Vancouver/Chicago series will each drop the puck in a deciding G7 Tuesday night. But it is the only one I can honestly say I care about right now. And damn it, I want to watch my team play in May.
Lucky No. 7 on the way Wednesday night? Let's hope so. Otherwise, this is a series that will go down as a tally in the "ones we'd like to forget" column with regards to Penguins history.