Lightning put Penguins on brink with Game 5 OT win
Tyler Johnson scored 53 seconds into overtime to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday night.
The Bolts battled back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 before Johnson's clincher. "There's a quiet calm about that group," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "Even when we were down 2-0 midway through the game, there wasn't panic. There wasn't anything going on on the bench other than let's just get the next one. Let's just get the next
Nikita Kucherov led the comeback with a pair of goals and an assist on Johnson's winner. Alex Killorn tallied once in regulation for the Lightning. For Kucherov, the goals were his first of the series and give him the league lead with 11 postseason markers.
Brian Dumoulin, with his first career playoff goal and first of the 2015-16 season, got the Penguins on the board early. Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz also lit the lamp for Pittsburgh.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 21 saves for the Penguins in his first start since Mar. 3. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 31 for Tampa Bay, which will look to close out the series Tuesday night in home in Game 6 (8 ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS).
Here's a look at some of the key moments from this swing game:
Cooper reunited the Triplets line midway through the third period and the trio of Kucherov, Johnson and Ondrej Palat came up big with a pair of game-changing goals.
After Kucherov tied the game with just over three minutes remaining in regulation, they combined to finish it in extra time. The Lightning instigated a heavy forecheck that created a Penguins turnover behind the net. The puck came out to Kucherov at the point. He fed a streaking Jason Garrison. His blast from the right faceoff dot deflected off the back of Johnson, who had just outmuscled Dumoulin for position in front of the net, and flew past Fleury for the clincher.
"That's what winners do," Cooper said. "They don't back down."
Gif of the Night, Part I
Take another moment to appreciate this second-period save by Fleury on a Johnson one-timer to preserve (at least for the moment) Pittsburgh's 2-0 lead. The focus, the extension...don't know if Matt Murray gets to this one. This is as good as it gets:
Gif of the Night, Part II
This is how close Ryan Callahan came to tying it up just before Kucherov got the job done:
Notable Number: 4/12
The Pens promised to take care of Fleury long enough for him shake off the rust, and they delivered. They blocked 12 shots in the first period, only allowing four to test the veteran netminder, making for an easy transition to playoff pace.
What It Means
You have to hand it to the Lightning. They give up a killer goal to Dumoulin with 0.7 seconds left in the first. Then, after fighting back with a pair of goals to tie the game at two in the second period, they allow another last-minute goal to Kunitz. That'd be enough to knock the fight out of some teams, but the Bolts made some adjustments and just kept coming. That's a tribute to the coaching of Cooper and to the mental toughness of this group. They're now one win away from making a return visit to the Stanley Cup Final.
To get that last one though, they might need a sharper effort from Vasilevskiy. The 21-year-old was put in a tough spot when starter Ben Bishop was injured in Game 1, and he's starting to show some signs of wear. He's allowed at least three goals in each of his four starts, which puts a lot of pressure on Tampa Bay's offense. They gave him four goals of support in this one, but that's a lot of expect moving forward. He has to tighten up.
If its any consolation, the Pens have bigger questions to answer after letting this one slip away.
Mike Sullivan made a controversial call in giving Fleury the start, and it backfired on him. Now he has a tough decision ahead of Game 6...though he's not ready to tip his hand.
"I'm not going to assess his game right after the game," Sullivan said of his netminder. "It's obviously a disheartening game we just lost. I'd rather digest it a little bit before I jump to any conclusions."
But Fleury's struggles though didn't cost them as dearly as did the absence of Trevor Daley. The veteran blueliner, a key contributor since coming over from Chicago midseason, is out for the duration after shattering his ankle Friday night.
And the Pens were a mess without him. Kris Letang was expected to step up his game, but he had a miserable night. He was on the ice for all four of Tampa Bay's goals.
Olli Maatta replaced Daley on the roster, and he made things happen with the puck. His ability to take a Sidney Crosby pass and fire it on net in one motion created Hornqvist's second period tally. He later had a terrific rush that led to Kunitz's go-ahead goal (though he somehow wasn't credited with an assist). But he doesn't bring the stabilizing presence that Daley can.
And there were several stretches when the Pens were scrambling in their own zone, especially during Tampa Bay's frantic second-period push, when they simply missed his veteran poise. They struggled to move the puck efficiently, and that meant more time spent in the defensive zone. In the end it caught up to them.
Now the Pens are in the tough spot of having to win two elimination games, starting Tuesday night in Tampa. The way these conference finals have gone, it's not smart to rule them out... but they're going to need a different effort, especially in their own end, if they're going to bring this series back to Pittsburgh for Game 7.