Penguins defeat Lightning, force Game 7 in Eastern Conference finals
TAMPA, Fla. — One of the attributes coach Mike Sullivan always has praised in rookie goalie Matt Murray is his calm demeanor.
Sullivan saw it when they started the season together in Wilkes-Barre. Sullivan cited it when he explained his decision to start Murray over Marc-Andre Fleury in his team's most crucial game of the year.
Murray's calm was pushed to its absolute limit in the third period of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Tuesday night. Tampa Bay's Brian Boyle scored twice, and the Lightning moved within a goal, raising the specter of the Penguins losing their final two games of the season by blowing third-period leads.
Through it all, though, the calm remained. As a result, the Penguins lived to play another day.
Murray made 17 of his 28 saves in the third period, leading the Penguins to a 5-2 victory over the Lightning to force a decisive Game 7 on Thursday night at Consol Energy Center.
“I just think that's part of his DNA,” Sullivan said of Murray. “He has a calming influence. He doesn't get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That's usually an attribute that takes years to acquire. To have it at such a young age is impressive.”
Even the events of the past few days — he was benched in favor of Fleury after leading the Penguins to within two games of the Stanley Cup Final — didn't seem to knock Murray off his game.
“My job isn't to worry about (Sullivan's) decision,” Murray said. “My job is to be ready if my name is called, and if my name is called, to go out and play my heart out and compete.”
In addition to Murray's performance, the Penguins extended their season thanks to two dominant puck-possession periods, a couple of breaks that went their way and goals from star players Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby.
Through two periods, the Penguins held a 28-13 advantage in shots and a 40-20 edge in shot attempts. They knew that wouldn't be enough, though: They held similar advantages in previous games in the series but did not win.
That's where the breaks came.
First, 5 minutes, 12 seconds into the game, Jonathan Drouin had a goal waved off when video replay showed he was offside by a fraction of an inch. The nullification gave the Penguins a chance to hit the reset button rather than starting the game in a hole.
“Maybe calmed the nerves a little,” winger Chris Kunitz said. “Got us a second chance or an extra life to go back and just kind of regroup.”
The Penguins caught a couple of breaks in the first period as well.
With 3:06 left, Murray cleared a puck that tipped off the top of the glass and went into the stands. Less than a minute later, with the Lightning already killing a penalty, Victor Hedman cleared a puck from the half-wall in his own zone that sailed over the glass 150 feet away at the other end of the rink.
On the five-on-three power play that followed, Kessel scored on an airborne cross-ice pass from Crosby.
“We're trying our best out there,” Kessel said. “We're trying to get it done. Tonight we were able to get a couple in there. Hopefully we can do it in Game 7.”
The Penguins added to their lead in the second. Letang picked a corner, and Crosby picked up a turnover caused by Patric Hornqvist, blew past defenseman Anton Stralman and scored.
“I think everyone played great tonight,” Crosby said. “Everyone contributes in their own way. In a big game like this, you don't have to do anything special. You just have to do your job.”
Thanks to two goals from Boyle, it looked like the Penguins might squander a late lead for the second straight game after starting the season 46-0 when they led after two periods.
Thanks in part to Murray's influence, the Lightning never found the equalizer. Bryan Rust's breakaway goal with 2:08 left made sure there would be a Game 7.
“(Murray) made a lot of huge saves there to kind of keep it under control in the third,” Rust said. “It was good to have him kind of calming things down there on the back end.”