Game 6 Pre-Game Buzz

The Tampa Bay Lightning are one win away from becoming just the third team in the last 14 years to earn consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances.

It would be quite a feat after beating the 2014-2015 President Trophy winning New York Rangers last season in seven games to earn a trip to the Finals than coming back this season in knocking off Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins without Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop.

Tonight is so fascinating from the Penguins end.

If the Penguins lose tonight and even if it’s another overtime loss, this season will be looked at as a major missed opportunity when factoring in the Penguins held a 2-1 series lead over Tampa Bay and led all game in Game 5 before surrendering a 2-0 lead and 3-2 lead with under four minutes in the third period of Game 5, eventually losing 53 seconds into OT.

It will be another off-season with many questioning from the outside whether it’s time for Pittsburgh to trade Evgeni Malkin and make a change for the sake of change before it’s too late to get the type of value you should for a player of his caliber.

If the Penguins win Game 6 but lose Game 7, there will be a much different narrative surrounding this team. More will accept things that they just ran into a pretty good hockey club.

The Penguins go down tonight, though, the organization will find a way to spin a hot three month run as a screaming success, but it’s hard to imagine many others accepting another series loss to a lower seeded team by losing three straight where the stars couldn’t get the job done.

That’s why tonight’s game is going to be so fascinating in dictating how this post-season run will be remembered.

Do the Penguins need Malkin and Crosby tonight to be great statistically to win? Probably not. They’ve showed many times this post-season they can win without them. But, being dangerous on the ice and not being absent isn’t too much to ask from those two.

When Crosby and Malkin are not producing like they should be, we always compare them to other stars who have struggled to come up with excuses for both.

How about the Sharks No. 1 center Joe Pavelski? Pavelski who by the way is 31 years old, gets the oppositions No. 1 shutdown line and No. 1 pairing every night. He leads with the playoffs with 12 goals and is tied with teammate (Sharks No. 2 center) Logan Couture for the playoffs lead in points with 21. Joe Thornton and Logan Couture in fact have more assists (14) than Crosby and Malkin have points.

Couture is 27 and Thornton is 36. These are not players in their young 20’s just hitting the prime of their careers.

Colin Freaking Wilson of the Nashville Predators has more playoff points than Malkin and his team didn’t even make it out of the second round by the way.

The linemates are a problem for both Crosby and Malkin, everyone has to acknowledge that, but 0.81 points per game for Crosby and 0.80 points per game for Malkin just shouldn’t be acceptable especially with the power play time both get.

Tonight is a situation where they need to be counted on to rise to the occasion because they haven’t in past games where the Penguins were on the brink of elimination.

2015 Playoffs 1st Round:
Game 5 vs Rangers: Sidney Crosby 1 assist, Evgeni Malkin 0 points in a 2-1 OT loss.

2014 Playoffs Second Round:
Game 7 vs Rangers: Sidney Crosby 0 points, Evgeni Malkin 0 points in a 2-1 loss.

2013 Playoffs Third Round:
Game 4 vs Bruins: Sidney Crosby 0 points, Evgeni Malkin 0 points in a 1-0 loss.

The Penguins last three elimination playoff games where they had to win to stay alive, Crosby and Malkin have combined for 1 assist and the Penguins have lost all three games by one goal.

So much is on the line tonight.

Back to Matt Murray

Win or lose, Mike Sullivan is going back to the goaltender he has the most trust in, Matt Murray. Murray will be back between the pipes for Game 6 after Marc Andre Fleury’s uneven performance in Game 5.

He really had no other decision to make than to go back to Murray.

Murray is not only the Penguins’ goaltender of the future, he’s their best goaltender at this very moment and Sullivan obviously see’s it.

Sullivan in confirming Murray will start in goal tonight, told reporters he goes with the players who “give us the best chance to win.”

Sullivan cited Murray having a “calming effect on the group in front of him” and of Fleury Sullivan said the team doesn’t have the “luxury of allowing players to play through things.”

For Sullivan, it had to be a tough conversation with Marc Andre Fleury but Fleury’s a professional athlete making nearly $6 million this season. Tough decisions are part of the business and no one should feel sorry for him. He’ll survive.

More Buzz

— Where the Penguins have lost hold of this series the last two games has been their inability to win the neutral zone. It’s completely changed the dynamic of the series. Tampa Bay has solved the Penguins fore-checking pressure and they have got the Penguins so worried about odd-man rushes against, Pittsburgh is now sitting back into more of a neutral zone trap To read this insider news, subscribe to get “Inside Access”!