I said before this series started that it was going to go six games and here we are.
I had a really good feeling about Game 5 and for the first few minutes, it looked inevitable that the Penguins would be advancing to the second round.
As we all know, that wasn’t the case and the Penguins were blown out 8-2. So much for good feelings I guess. I should have known something was up when the game started and I wasn’t greeted by a wall of nausea.
I’m fairly certain my game day routine was spot on, aside from the fact that I had to be at the office during the game. That’s really the only thing I did differently, so that’s what I’m going with.
Anyway, the Penguins have been in this position in each of the last two years in the first round.
In 2009, the Penguins went back to Philadelphia for Game 6. After falling behind 3-0, Max Talbot’s fight with Dan Carcillo sparked a furious rally that shushed the Flyers and their fans.
Last year, the Penguins fell behind 3-0 again in Game 6 against the Senators. The Pens staged another rally to win 4-3 in overtime.
Before we get into the keys to the game, here’s a bonus one. The Penguins cant afford to fall behind 3-0 again tonight. They need to hold the Lightning to two or fewer goals in order to win.
Here’s what needs to happen for the Pens to be successful in Game 6 and eliminate the Tampa Bay Lightning.
1. Instant Amnesia
The Penguins got smoked 5-1 in Game 2 on home ice before hitting the road for Game 3. Marc-Andre Fleury and the rest of the team shook off the loss and responded with a spirited 3-2 win.
It doesn’t matter that the Lightning won 8-2 on Saturday. All that six-goal margin got them was one win in the series.
There were moments where the Penguins showed that they could pin Tampa Bay deep in their end and score some goals. They need to draw on that for Game 6 and forget about the negative aspects of Game 5.
To quote Kevin Nealon in “Happy Gilmore,” “Lot of pressure. You gotta rise above it. Harness in the good energy, block out the bad. Harness energy, block bad. Feel the flow.”
2. Protect The Net
This is what the Penguins did a poor job of in Game 5.
Pittsburgh’s skaters need to do a better job of tying up sticks, boxing out Lightning attackers and clearing rebounds out of danger.
Team defense is what got this team a 3-2 lead in the series and that’s what will get them the all-important fourth win.
Fleury has an uncanny knack for bouncing back after a loss in the playoffs and I expect him to be sharp and ready to play tonight.
According to the Penguins’ website, Fleury is 12-4 after a playoff loss with a 2.01 GAA and .927 save percentage. He’s also 3-0 with a 1.33 GAA and .958 save percentage in games after he was pulled.
3. Play For 60 Minutes….Or More
I know that “or more” part is going to come back to haunt me, but when the Pens have competed for 60 minutes, they’ve been successful.
Heading into Game 5, the Penguins had dominated 5-on-5 play. They’ve outshot Tampa Bay in every game of this series.
While the shots may not be dangerous all the time, they force Dwayne Roloson to have to make a save.
James Neal threw a puck at the net from a bad angle in double-overtime in Game 4 and it went in. There’s something to be said for throwing everything at the net and crashing for rebounds.
That tactic worked to perfection for the Lightning in Game 5.
There’s no reason a team comprised of hard-working, gritty players can’t return the favor and send the Bolts packing in front of their own fans.
4. Relax And Have Fun
Is it about time that we break out the “nobody expected the Penguins to be in this position” card yet?
I doubt it, but I can guarantee you that’s what’s going to be said should the Pens not claim the Stanley Cup this season.
The point is, it’s still a 3-2 series. There’s still a maximum of two games left to get the job done.
Obviously, they want to end the series tonight and get rested up for the second round. Two other series are already going to a decisive seventh game, so a win tonight will allow for a short break.
Looking back on Game 5, frustration started to set in after they couldn’t beat Roloson early. Tampa Bay scoring two quick goals only added to the frustration.
In the end, hockey is a game and it’s supposed to be fun.
While the magnitude of the game is certainly high, if the Penguins can stay loose and go out and execute, they’ll be shaking their opponents’ hands at center ice tonight.
The puck is set to drop at 7 p.m. and you can see it on Root Sports or Versus.
You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CaseySheaPens.