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Berube: Crosby, Malkin must 'step it up' in Game 6

Former NHL coach also believes 'frustrated' Letang needs to 'take a step back'

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

For additional insight into the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Craig Berube to break down the action. Berube will be checking in throughout the series.

Berube, 50, was the coach of the Philadelphia Flyers from 2013-15. He was a Flyers assistant coach for six seasons prior to being promoted to coach Oct. 7, 2013. The Flyers were 75-58-28 under Berube. They made the Stanley Cup Playoffs and lost to the New York Rangers in the first round in 2014.

PITTSBURGH -- The what-if scenarios were impossible for Craig Berube to ignore when it came to dissecting the Pittsburgh Penguins and how they got to the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference Final with a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 5 on Monday.

What if Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov doesn't get the puck off a rebound at the left post and wrap it around the right post and in to tie the game 3-3 with 3:16 remaining in the third period?

"That's a quick play by a very talented forward who can do that kind of stuff," Berube said.

What if Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison's shot doesn't go off the backside of center Tyler Johnson and in the net 53 seconds into overtime?

"The Penguins, I thought they played well and I thought it was a good game," Berube said. "I think both teams played pretty well. To me, there wasn't a whole lot of difference between them."

Except one goal and now one win, which leaves us to analyze, or perhaps overanalyze, how the Lightning took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series and how the Penguins got to the point where they have to win Game 6 at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Video: Crosby & Malkin Struggling in ECF

It starts with goaltending, as it typically does.

Fact: Marc-Andre Fleury, making his first start since March 31 in Game 5, wasn't good enough in allowing four goals on 21 shots, with all four goals coming on the last 14 shots he faced.

"It's his first game in a while," Berube said. "I'm sure he thought he could play better."

Fact: Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has allowed three goals in each of the past two games, but he's been good enough to win because the Penguins' goalies, Fleury and rookie Matt Murray in Game 4, haven't been better than him.

"You've got to have good goaltending," Berube said. "We all know that."

You also need your top players to be your top players.

"And I think Tampa's top players have taken this series over," Berube said. "They're clearly the best players on the ice."

He's talking about Kucherov, Johnson and Ondrej Palat in particular. They combined for three goals and three assists in Game 5, including two goals and an assist by Kucherov. And that was after they combined for one goal and three assists in Tampa Bay's 4-3 win in Game 4.

"They're really doing a good job with the puck, moving the puck, keeping it, making plays, those types of things," Berube said. "That's their game and they're doing a good job of it. They're finding a little bit of room out there and they're doing something with it."

You know who isn't doing that? The Penguins' top players.

Sidney Crosby was on the ice for 18 even-strength shots-attempts against and the last two goals in Game 5. Evgeni Malkin has picked up his game of late but still was too passive, especially on the power play, in Game 5.

"They need Crosby and Malkin to really step it up next game," Berube said.

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm3: Crosby tallies PPG on Malkin's feed

To Berube, the Pittsburgh skater that has to raise his play the most is defenseman Kris Letang, who was a minus-4 and on the ice for a team-high 24 even-strength shot-attempts against, to 14 shot-attempts for, in Game 5.

Letang lost his cool in Game 4, leading to a penalty and a power-play goal for the Lightning, and he didn't get anything going for himself in Game 5. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Letang has been guilty of looking for the next play or a better play and it has gotten him in trouble.

"Letang looks a little frustrated to me the last couple of games," Berube said. "I think I'd like to see him take a step back a little bit and clear out his head a little bit. He's a much better player when he's not frustrated and just playing, doing what he can do."

As bleak as it may look for the Penguins now, Berube stressed that he thinks they can be fine if they take advantage of their assets, in particular their speed.

"The Penguins need to get back to their quickness," Berube said. "If they have to, get it in deep and go get it, forecheck and get on them, get the puck and do what you can do in the offensive zone. That's their game, cycling it, moving it, using their speed and using the defense. Just playing this fast game.

"But listen, they played pretty well. You can overanalyze and that's part of everybody's job, but they're right in it. They've done a great job. It's that close."

Berube thinks the series is that close too, which is why he doesn't think the Penguins should have any problems putting the Game 5 loss behind them.

"I'm sure [Sullivan] has already done that," Berube said. "He's going to tell these guys, 'Put it behind you. We've got to go forward. We're a good team. Let's continue doing what we've been doing. Let's go out there and skate and attack and take it to them. Let's give everything we've got.' That's all you can do.

"They could have won that game 3-2."

What if?

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