After Penguins coach Mike Sullivan made one of the biggest decisions of the post-season in starting Marc-Andre Fleury over Matt Murray for Game 5, the Pittsburgh bench boss will have yet another major choice to make going forward. Because after Fleury allowed four goals on 25 shots, including an early overtime-winner to Tyler Johnson, the Penguins have questions once again in goal.
It wasn’t that Fleury was entirely poor, though. Through the first 40 minutes of the contest, Fleury stopped all but two of the 13 shots he faced, and it’s not as if the first two goals he allowed could be blamed on him. First, it was Alex Killorn who found the sliver of daylight over Fleury’s shoulder. Then it was Nikita Kucherov scoring on a no-doubter little more than a minute later.
However, the rebound that led to Kucherov’s second goal of the game on a wraparound with 3:16 left in the third period wasn’t pretty. Johnson threw a weak backhand on goal with next to no net-front pressure, and though Fleury blocked it away, the puck landed right on Kucherov’s stick to set up the wraparound tying goal.
And even if it's the poor rebound control that led to Kucherov's tying goal, it'll be game-winning goal that that leads Sullivan to question who starts Game 6. A simple shot from the left wing boards from Jason Garrison deflected off the back of Johnson for the game-winning tally, and though the puck changed direction in a big way, Fleury probably should have turned the shot aside. Instead, the Lightning took home a 4-3 overtime victory:
All told, Fleury allowed four goals against on 25 shots has to have Sullivan thinking twice about which goaltender starts Game 6 for the Penguins. Heading into Game 5, Murray had been solid throughout the playoffs. Sure, he allowed four goals against in Game 5 and was shaky in the late stages of Game 2, but Murray has been able to turn in solid performances throughout the post-season and his play in games following a loss has been one of the strongpoints of Pittsburgh's playoff run.
The Lightning should be given credit, though. When they needed big goals, they got them, especially from Kucherov and Johnson, two of the three ‘Triplets.’ That the Lightning are getting goals from their big names has been a game-changer in this series, too, as it's the one thing that the Penguins haven’t been able to get in the past two games. Beyond that, Game 5 was the first time in the Eastern Conference final, including each of the Lightning’s victories, that Tampa Bay had a good amount of the possession time.
It was the best game of the playoffs for the Lightning in about every way possible. They put pucks on net and created havoc for the Penguins defense, and it’s worth wondering whether or not this has anything to do with the absence of Trevor Daley, whose ankle injury has him out for the remainder of the post-season and could have a very real impact on the conference final.
Game 5's loss has Pittsburgh as the first team facing elimination in the Eastern Conference final and that the Lightning have been the first to down the Penguins in back-to-back games bodes well for Tampa Bay. Be it the experience of the past post-season or that coach Jon Cooper has been able to get his squad to adjust in the right ways at the right time, the Lightning now have the Penguins’ backs against the wall.
If Pittsburgh can’t answer back in Game 6, Tampa Bay could be the first back-to-back Eastern Conference champions since Pittsburgh did it in 2008 and 2009. And it couldn't be more fitting that the Lightning could do so at the expense of those same Penguins.