TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Lightning followed Dwayne Roloson’s lead to remain alive in the NHL playoffs.
The 41-year-old goaltender, who says the key to thriving in the post-season is to have a short-term memory, stopped 27 shots Monday night to outplay Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury and beat the Penguins 4-2 to force a Game 7 in their first-round Eastern Conference series.
The deciding game is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, where fifth-seeded Tampa Bay has already won twice this post-season, including an 8-2 Game 5 blowout that began its comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the series.
“We just played two Game 7s because that is the position we are in,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said after his team avoided elimination for the second time in three days. “That fifth game was a do or die for us, and the sixth was a do or die.”
Steve Downie put the Lightning ahead for good, scoring just over a minute after Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal gave the fourth-seeded Penguins life with a goal that made it 2-2 early in the third. Teddy Purcell, Sean Bergenheim and Ryan Malone also scored against Fleury, who faltered for the second straight game.
“It’s a seven-game series. They’re a good team,” Pittsburgh’s James Neal said. “We’ve played them hard all series long. It comes down to one now. Lay it out on the line … do what we can, and come out with the win.”
Pulled after yielding four goals on 14 shots in Game 5, Fleury couldn’t protect an early lead and struggled again when Pittsburgh looked like it had regained momentum.
The Pittsburgh goalie was spectacular in Game 1, delivering an acrobatic 32-save performance that produced his fifth career post-season shutout. He’s struggled in the Penguins’ three losses and allowed the Lightning to rally from two-goal deficits in two games Pittsburgh went on to win.
Still, Fleury expects the Penguins to regroup and win Game 7.
“We know we can play,” Fleury said. “I’m still positive and think we can do it.”
Downie’s go-ahead goal came moments after Roloson rejected point-blank shots by Maxime Talbot and Pascal Dupuis. The Tampa Bay goalie also was at his best in the second period, when the Lightning killed four penalties and Pittsburgh’s Chris Conner failed to score on a penalty shot that would have tied the score.
Malone beat Fleury, who had 17 saves, on a breakaway to make it 4-2 midway through the third.
“We stayed with our game plan and did what we had to do to win a hockey game,” said Roloson, who rebounded from giving up an overtime goal that ended Game 4 to stop 31 shots on Saturday and continue to outshine Fleury on Monday night. “We didn’t change anything.”
The Lightning goalie stopped two shots by Talbot and a rebound by Dupuis before Downie scored seconds later.
“Goalies have to be outstanding in the playoffs. … That was a key moment. It was an uplift for the team,” Boucher said.
“That’s what Rollie does,” Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos said. “He steps up to the challenge.”
Stamkos, Simon Gagne and Pavel Kubina each scored two goals in the Lightning’s Game 5 win, when Boucher encouraged his players to shoot the puck more in hopes of increasing opportunities for rebounds. The result was a barrage of goals that chased Fleury less than 15 minutes into the rout.
The Lightning started slowly this time, going nearly 11 minutes without getting a shot and falling behind when Talbot took advantage of Roloson’s bad pass behind the net to feed Dupuis for his first goal of the series. That changed when Purcell scored on a rebound 8 seconds after the Penguins killed off a penalty.
Bergenheim’s goal, coming off a nifty pass from Dominic Moore, gave Tampa Bay a lead at home for the first time in the series. The Penguins squandered 2-0 leads in Games 3 and 4 at the St. Pete Times Forum, however they recovered to win both to take a 3-1 series lead back to Pittsburgh.
The Penguins continued to struggle on the power play, going 0 for 5 to drop to 1 for 30 in the series.
“We’ve just got to stick with it. No use in getting frustrated,” Pittsburgh defenceman Kris Letang said. “We know we’ve had chances here to end it, but it’s a seven-game series and we’ll come out fighting hard in our building.”
Notes: For the first time in the series, the team that scored first failed to win. … Conner’s penalty shot was Pittsburgh’s sixth in post-season play, and the first since Evgeni Malkin’s failed attempt on May 1, 2008, against the New York Rangers. The Penguins have failed to capitalize on five opportunities since Jaromir Jagr’s goal May 11, 1992. in a game against the Rangers. … Fleury fell to 12-5 all-time in the post-season, including a 6-2 mark in the past eight.