Playoffs Breakdown: Game 16 – Penguins 3, Lightning 4

Breakdown

By: @chetstead

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been pushed to the brink of elimination.

Game six – and possibly the end of the line – looms in Tampa.

Though the Pens spent most of game five in the driver’s seat, the Lightning never looked down and out. The Pens held the lead several times, but the Bolts tied it up, sent it to overtime, and then took the air right out of Consol Energy Center with a goal less than a minute into the overtime period.

Mike Sullivan started Marc-Andre Fleury in net, and his decision may come back to haunt him.

Fleury was the logical choice. He was the team’s starting goaltender throughout the regular season. When Matt Murray gave up four goals in game four, Sullivan replaced him with Fleury. The Pens then scored three in the third period and nearly tied up the game.

In game five, though, Fleury looked rusty. That’s not a surprise, since Fleury was injured in the final game of the regular season and hadn’t played for weeks. Nonetheless, Fleury’s failure to make a couple key saves allowed Tampa to tie the game late in the third and then ice it with a goal in overtime.

Other marquee players let the Pens down, as well. Trevor Daley broke his ankle in game four and has been ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs. That meant an additional burden was placed on Kris Letang – and Letang didn’t carry it well. He finished the game with a -4, which was the worst on the team. He was on the ice for each of Tampa’s goals.

In losing, the Pens squandered a goal by Brian Dumoulin – a rare occurrence indeed. It was Dumoulin’s first goal of the season and second in his career. Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz added goals as well, but Kucherov’s three-point game ruined the Pens’ night.

Sullivan started the game with a little trickery, sending Beau Bennett out with the Crosby line and scratching Sheary. It was the first time Bennett had been in the lineup since early April.

Shawn Michaels, “The Heartbreak Kid,” was in attendance to support the HBK line of Hagelin, Kessel and Bonino. Gerrit Cole was in the crowd as well, sporting an Ian Cole sweater.

None if it was enough to stave off the Lightning.

Sullivan will need to come up with something to get the Pens back to their form in games two and three. He’s facing a choice between Fleury and Murray, though it seems inevitable that Fleury, the franchise goalie, will get the start.

The Pens hadn’t lost back-to-back games for months. Hopefully, the team will gut out a win in Tampa and avoid losing three in a row. That would push the series back to a game seven in Pittsburgh, which is the best thing the Pens can hope for at this point.