What a difference about 48 hours can make. Friday evening the Pittsburgh Penguins were up 2 games to 1 over the Tampa Bay Lightning and fresh off routing the Bolts on Wednesday night. The coronation, is seemed, was well in-progress for the Pens to roll to their 3rd Stanley Cup Finals in the last 9 years.
Now, Monday morning, it's 3 games to 2 Tampa, following a no-good, very-bad weekend for the Pens. The last time Pittsburgh lost two games in a row, Carl Hagelin wasn't even on the team. Think about that for a second.
Is it too early to point fingers? Well, no of course not this is the internet and we live in a knee-jerk culture these days. And plenty of Penguins are open for criticism, the team started very flat Friday night in Game 4, conceding the first 4 goals. Matt Murray , the slayer of the Rangers and Capitals has been looking more leaky and less comfortable as the grind of the postseason has worn on. Maybe because of that, coach Mike Sullivan turned to Marc-Andre Fleury for Game 5. Fleury was no better, giving up 2 weak goals and getting hung out to dry for a couple more in an overtime loss.
Kris Letang had a weekend to forget too, his retaliation double-minor penalty on Friday cost the team, and then Sunday he was on ice for all four goals Tampa scored in his worst game in recent memory. Letang hasn't looked quite right since being boarded in Game 1, really, but that is no excuse. A lot of blame went to Fleury on the game-tying goal last night by Nikita Kucherov, but watch again and isolate on how lackadaisical Letang plays him.
Also, you have to credit the other guys too. The Pens aren't losing to bums, they're being punished by their mistakes by incredibly skilled players like Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson . All of these guys are Tampa's best players.
Which means the Penguins need more out of their best players. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been quiet of late. Malkin has flashed like his goal out of no-where in G4, and a nice spinning shot to put Chris Kunitz in place for a goal in G5, but only had 2 shots last night. Ditto Crosby with 2 SOG in each of the last two games, and 0 points in both. Fair or not, these guys are judged on production this time of year, and if the Pens earn a Game 7, their best players need to play like it.
Go to any hockey locker room and you'll hear buzzwords like "desperation" and "intensity" and "hard on the puck" and the like repeated ad nauseum. The Penguins certainly haven't had much of this in their weekend games, and now with their backs against the wall if they don't wake up and play better as a team, they will find themselves wondering how such a great opportunity slipped away.