The Tampa Bay Lightning are doing much more than just staying alive these days. With another statement win in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Tampa Bay is in a position to accomplish something it hasn’t done in seven years: advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Lightning came out with the same sense of urgency and a matched sense of intensity Monday night as it did in Game 5’s Saturday matinee, as they defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 at the St. Pete Times Forum to force a Game 7 Wednesday night at Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center.
Steve Downie’s goal at 4:55 in the third period, his first of the postseason, proved to be the game-winner after he helped recapture Tampa Bay’s one-goal lead, and more importantly, assisted the club in staving off elimination for the second consecutive game.
The goal came just 1:07 after Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal knotted things up at two goals apiece, following a spectacular series of saves by Dwayne Roloson on Penguins forwards Maxime Talbot and Pascal Dupuis.
“What I liked about Steve Downie tonight was not just his offensive game,” head coach Guy Boucher said. “We know he is a really smart guy with the puck, but I like the way he’s handling his emotions. I gave him the star of the game on our team.”
Downie finished the night with three points, while Ryan Malone added a goal and had two points in the game. Malone ripped a shot past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury on a breakaway to seal the win, capping the scoring at 4-2.
Tampa Bay will now face a decisive Game 7 for just the third time in franchise history. The Lightning will bring with it a 2-0-0 record in series-deciding contests, last winning two straight during the 2004 postseason in which it defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in the Conference Finals before beating the Calgary Flames in the final game of the playoffs that earned the franchise its first Stanley Cup.
Rather than face a pressure situation, Boucher instead considered Wednesday’s showdown no different than his team’s previous two games, which he likened to a traditional series-clinching contest.
“We just played two Game 7s because that has been the position we have been in,” he added. “That fifth game was a do or die for us and this sixth game was a do or die for us. The seventh game is no different. We just played two.”
Much like in Games 3 and 4 played at the St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa Bay’s own mistakes in the defensive zone resulted in untimely goals that allowed the Penguins to control play in the first period and set the tone of the match early.
That was evident again Monday night, when Dupuis batted home a feed from Talbot through the legs of Roloson to open the scoring. What seemed like a harmless play behind the Lightning net turned into an early deficit for Tampa Bay after Roloson turned the puck over right onto the stick of Talbot, who found his linemate stationed in front of the crease for his first goal of the postseason at 8:23.
“We came out a little tentative shooting the puck and tried to be too fancy,” Lightning assistant coach Martin Raymond said. “We needed to have good shots on net and just needed to go for it.”
After not receiving the bounces in the series’ opening game in Pittsburgh, the Bolts had luck on their side at times, and more than once Monday night. After Pavel Kubina was assessed a tripping call on a Penguins breakaway, Chris Conner skated in one-on-one against Roloson on the ensuing penalty shot attempt, only to lose control of the puck and void any chance of knotting the game up at two. Penguins defenseman Kris Letang later hit a post with a slap shot that would have brought Pittsburgh to within one towards the end of the final period.
Suffice it to say that the good karma at one end of the ice was equally as present at the other, as Tampa Bay shifted the momentum and dominated the final 40 minutes of play, despite being outshot 22-12 in that span.
Following Dupuis’ tally, Teddy Purcell tied it in the closing minutes of the opening period on a third attempt from below the left circle after the puck deflected off a skate in front. Malone initially had the first crack at the shot, but Fleury made a pad save only to be beaten by Purcell’s ensuing rebound attempt.
Sean Bergenheim then gave Tampa Bay its first lead of the game early in the second. Dominic Moore got the play started when he slid a nifty backdoor pass to Bergenheim, who sent a shot just out of the reach of Fleury’s skate to make it 2-1 nearly six minutes in.
“That was a significant part of the second period and ultimately turned into a significant part of the game,” Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma said.
Roloson not only benefited from a few lucky breaks, but he made some pretty nice saves too. With the Penguins pressing to tie the game early in the third, Roloson first denied Talbot from point-blank range on a breakaway and then turned back a trailing Dupuis on the rebound attempt from in close.
“He made some terrific saves and kept us in there,” Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said. “He had a great stop on Talbot and another one on Dupuis with the rebound. That one was a game-changer and really swung the momentum for us.”
Roloson will have a chance to improve to 6-0-0 in elimination games Wednesday night. He made 27 saves, while Fleury turned back 17 shots for Pittsburgh.
Staal did, however, notch the game-tying goal at 3:48, but Tampa Bay responded just 1:07 later with Downie’s first goal of the postseason to reclaim the one-goal advantage. Malone then ended it with 9:34 to go.
A raucous sellout crowd of 20,309 rose to its feet, as the volume level also increased to the tune of various chants echoing throughout the arena in support of the home team. A voluminous crying out of “Fleury” began to occur midway through the third and boosted the Lightning to a strong finish much to the crowd’s delight.
Tampa Bay became the first team to rally from a 1-0 deficit in the series. Much of that success can be attributed once again to a super penalty killing unit, which eliminated five of five additional chances in the Game 6 victory.
“I think our whole team stuck to our game plan and remained disciplined,” Downie said. “Our penalty kill was great and everyone did an all-around job.”
tampabaylightning.com is the official Web site of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa Bay Lightning and tampabaylightning.com are trademarks of Lightning Hockey L.P. NHL, the NHL Shield, the word mark and image of the Stanley Cup and NHL Conference logos are registered trademarks of the National Hockey League. All NHL logos and marks and NHL team logos and marks as well as all other proprietary materials depicted herein are the property of the NHL and the respective NHL teams and may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of NHL Enterprises, L.P. Copyright © 1999-2013 Lightning Hockey, L.P. and the National Hockey League. All Rights Reserved.