Penguins face tough task to fulfill Malkin's Game 7 vow
He wasn't specifically asked the question, but Evgeni Malkin wanted everyone to know the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to win Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
"I believe my [in] team. I believe [in] myself," Malkin said. "And we can get it back at Pittsburgh [for Game 7] for sure."
That's a bold statement, especially after the Pens blew leads of 2–0 and 3–2 on the way to a 4–3 overtime loss to the Lightning on Sunday night. Now, Pittsburgh heads to Tampa trailing in the series three games to two, with momentum clearly swinging in favor of the Bolts.
It's a tough spot, but one that several Penguins have been in before.
"It's a tough situation, but if we see history, we know it's 3-2, it's not over for sure," Malkin told the media on Monday. "We [were down] 3-2 [to the Detroit Red Wings], but we come back and win the Stanley Cup [in 2009]. It's not easy, but it's just one game. [We need to] focus on game, 60 minutes. Remember, it's work hard for 60 minutes."
It'll take more than 60 minutes of hard work to knock off a Tampa Bay side that's coming off its best performance of the series. And while everything's coming together for the Lightning, the Pens have several questions to answer. Who plays on the wings beside Malkin and Sidney Crosby? How do they better compensate for the absence of Trevor Daley (fractured ankle) from the blueline?
And the biggest among them: Which goaltender will get the nod for this must-win game?
The Penguins rode Matt Murray to reach the conference finals, but he's been off his top form for more than a week. The rookie is just 3-3 with an .892 save percentage in his past six starts after going 6-1 with a .944 save percentage in his first seven.
After allowing four goals through 40 minutes in Game 4, Murray finally was replaced for the third period by Marc-André Fleury. The veteran was flawless in 20 minutes of relief, leading to a Game 5 start that had its moments, but ultimately wasn't good enough.
"I thought Marc made some big saves for us, especially early in the game," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "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."
Of course, Sullivan was the one who threw Fleury into that environment. An understandable decision given Fleury's pedigree, but that gamble didn't pay off. Now he has to double-down on Fleury or turn back to Murray with Pittsburgh's season on the line. No surprise then that he'll hold off on naming a starter for Game 6 until Tuesday.
"It's a tough one. It's just a tough circumstance," Sullivan said. "You know, we believe in the guys we have. We think we have quality people. But as I said, it's an imperfect situation. So we're trying to make the best decisions that we can, that we think give the team the best chance to win."