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Rossi: Game 6 is 1 more chance for Penguins’ Big 4 | TribLIVE.com
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Rossi: Game 6 is 1 more chance for Penguins’ Big 4

Ralph N. Paulk
| Monday, May 23, 2016 9:51 p.m
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy makes a save on the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin during the first period of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday, May 20, 2016, in Tampa, Fla.
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin works the puck low on the Lightning's Tyler Johnson during the third period of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday, May 20, 2016, in Tampa, Fla.
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury lays down in the crease after the Lightning's Nikita Kucherov's rap-around goal during the third period of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday, May 22, 2016, at Consol Energy Center.
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The Penguins' Sidney Crosby smacks the puck after the Lightning beat the Penguins in overtime during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday, May 22, 2016, at Consol Energy Center.
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Photo by Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina

Hockey heaven is a Game 7. But if you ask me, Game 6 is the one not to miss.

That definitely will be the case in a wildly entertaining Eastern Conference finals in which no lead has felt safe and few guesses have looked good.

Only Mike Sullivan knows who will start in net for the Penguins at Amalie Arena on Tuesday night. The Penguins coach wouldn’t share that information Monday morning before the team boarded a plane bound for Tampa, Fla.

The guess here is Sullivan will turn to the goalie he truly seems to trust: rookie Matt Murray.

The call here would be for the other goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury.

Sullivan should start Fleury, though not without attaching him to a short leash. He should do this not because Fleury will probably be better in his second start since March 31, but rather because going with Murray could be perceived by Penguins players as a panic move.

And a Game 6 is no time to panic.

It’s an opportunity to change everything, which is another reason for Sullivan to play Fleury.

By now, it’s clear Murray is the Penguins’ future at hockey’s most important position. Fleury, the longest-tenured Penguins player, can at best hope for an opportunity to extend the present.

He deserves that chance.

The Cup, his 410 wins (including playoffs), every smile in times good and bad — all of it should be worth one more chance to make a save for the Penguins, no?

Yes.

Also, one more chance is how Penguins ownership should view this Game 6 against the Lightning. A loss would result in the Penguins’ seventh defeat against a lower-seeded opponent since the Cup win in 2009. A loss also would mean the Penguins falling to 3-5 in series during which they reached two wins first.

What type of investment is that, anyway?

Wouldn’t blame Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux, co-owners trying to sell their majority share in the Penguins, for moving on from some player they’ve grown to cherish. Couldn’t blame any of those players — centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, defenseman Kris Letang, and Fleury — if the ice looked cleaner outside of Pittsburgh.

Change for the sake of change is always the worst of ideas.

But seven years without a return to the Cup Final seems like it should be one too many for the Penguins’ Big Four to garner even one more shot to chase Lord Stanley’s chalice together.

Before Tuesday night, Sullivan should pull Crosby, Malkin and Letang into his office for a chat. He should plead for them to set a proper example of patience and persistence early in Game 6. If the players don’t want to hear it, Sullivan should show them how those attributes have paid off for the Lightning.

Also, Sullivan would be wise to bring in Fleury and explain the situation clearly to the Big Four as a whole.

This might be your last game together as Penguins. You’re the ones who have been Penguins the longest. Make it count.

Extra motivation never hurt a desperate hockey club. If the Penguins don’t look desperate from the opening faceoff Tuesday night, the legacies of Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Fleury likely will look different than any of us figured they would on June 12, 2009.

Crosby again didn’t take questions Monday.

Malkin and Letang did. The latter looked and sounded tired. The former seemed agitated and sounded defiant.

“It’s not over,” Malkin said. “We have a chance to come back and beat a great team.”

Yeah, the Penguins do have a chance.

I’d like their chances better if Sullivan shortened his bench, traded four decent lines for three good ones, and committed to at least 20 minutes apiece for Malkin and Crosby.

Neither of the franchise centers is playing enough against the Lightning. With the season on the line, Crosby and Malkin must be positioned to make an impact.

Game 6s have positioned stars and role players to turn around series throughout Penguins history.

Backup goalie Frank Pietrangelo made “The Save” at New Jersey that sparked the Penguins’ first Cup run in 1991. Lemieux produced five points in a win that forced Game 7 against the Capitals during the opening round in 1992.

A generation of Pittsburghers is indebted to Rob Scuderi, a defenseman who became “The Piece” for covering a puck that had gone missing in the crease near the end of Game 6 in the 2009 Cup Final. A decade prior, winger Jaromir Jagr — skating on one healthy leg — tied and then won in overtime a Game 6 in Round 1.

Game 6s can change history.

Isn’t change what Sullivan has supposedly brought to the Penguins?

And isn’t it history that the Penguins’ Big Four has been chasing for the longest time?

Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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