Losing a playoff game stinks. Losing a playoff overtime game is a punch to the stomach. Losing a multiple OT playoff game is a shot below the belt. Losing a multiple OT playoff game on an avoidable, self-inflicted mistake is almost unbearable.
But losing a multiple OT playoff game on an avoidable, self-inflicted mistake by the goalie after out-shooting the opponent 50-27 prior to the goalie gift wrapping shot number 28 to end up in his net? That’s a fate on a hockey rink that’s beyond descriptors.
Yet, that is where the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tristan Jarry sit as they go into a Game 6. Jarry’s weak goals against were a main reason the Pens lost Game 1. For his overtime gaffe, you can put Game 5 on his tab too.
The series isn’t over, and it certainly isn’t over if Pittsburgh responds the right way. But how do you put THIS in the past and move on?
Jarry turns it over.— p - Avs Goal! (@ThreadsOfGoals) May 25, 2021
3-2 Islanders final, they also lead the series the same. Penguins facing elimination on Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/1u70oJjzzk
With Casey DeSmith injured and still not on the ice, the Penguins don’t have an alternative but to try. So try they will.
“We’ll rally around [Jarry],” Mike Sullivan said after Game 5. “He’s been a really good goalie for us all year long. He’ll continue to be a really good goalie for us moving forward.”
Outwardly, at least, the team is saying the right things.
“You shake it off and you have to bring your A-game [for] the next one,” Kris Letang said. “It’s a team game. It’s nobody’s fault. We win as a team and we lose as a team.”
Ultimately, Letang is correct. It’s a double overtime game. Every skater who dressed could have done something different at some point to erase a mistake or turn a near miss into a better pass or shot.
“There were obviously some breakdowns in there that we can learn from and some areas we can get better,” said Bryan Rust. “But I think we were playing on our toes tonight. We had a lot of good looks and we got to try and just carry that attitude in that game into the next one.”
Rust shifts to the positive aspect pretty quickly. Nothing he said was wrong either, the Pens were the dominant team in Game 5. They were also the losing team. Can everyone follow Rust’s lead to put the best skate forward on Wednesday?
It remains to be seen but the last chapter is still to be written.
It would be natural to assume confidence would be shattered, energy reserves depleted and a limp to an impending exit if a team loses a multiple OT playoff game would be all but inevitable. Yet for series involving the Penguins in the Sidney Crosby era, this has not the case at all. Take out the Game 7 factor, and the loser of the marathon playoff game involving the Pens in the last 15 years has actually gone on to rebound and win five of six series.
A multiple overtime loss feels crushing, but the Penguins are 3-1 in series for the Crosby/Malkin era when they LOSE a game in 2OT or 3OT. They’ve lost the long battle but eventually won the war against Ottawa (2010), Ottawa again (2013) and Columbus (2014). The Pens couldn’t overcome losing a double OT game to Boston in 2013 and eventually lost that series.
On the flip side, Pittsburgh just 1-2 in series where they have won the multiple OT game. They lost to Detroit in 2008 after winning a 3OT game, and lost Tampa in 2011, despite winning a double overtime game. Memorably, the Pens won the game and series in the same moment when they beat Ottawa in a 2017 double OT Game 7.
Simply participating in and losing a long playoff OT game is not necessarily the total kiss of death for the entire series like it might seem in the crushing moments after the game. (Naturally, unless it comes in Game 7 or an elimination game, and then there’s no way around it).
That is concept probably defies logic, but speaks to the resiliency of NHL hockey players. What should be a crushing loss hasn’t always been the case in Penguins’ series, both for and against them. That alone is certainly no guarantee 2021 will be added to the pile, but if you’re searching for a glimmer of hope, it’s that Game 6 will be a new day and could yield a different result if the team rises to the challenge. Their fate is truly only sealed if they are resigned to it.
“A lot of guys in that room have seen a lot of different circumstances,” said Rust. “We’ve had our backs against the wall before and we know what it takes to win. They’re going to have to lead by example, and I think everyone’s going to follow suit.”
After a Game 5 that showed so much promise, the Pens are back to having their backs to the wall. They have been unable to solve Sorokin, even though they’ve skated circles around the Islanders and bombarded the young goalie with plenty of shots and quality chances. Their own goalie has been shaky in the game’s biggest moments.
The next time the Pens and Isles meet, it will be Pittsburgh’s season on the line. They’ll need to quickly get over a pretty brutal result in order to give themselves a chance to write a happier ending. Otherwise, this season will be long be remembered as quite literally given away by a team good in stretches, but lacking in the moment.