TAMPA -- The Pittsburgh Penguins certainly have a better chance of extending the Eastern Conference Final to a seventh game if Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang play big in Game 6 at Amalie Arena on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), or at least much bigger than they did in Game 5.
But the Penguins' survival ultimately comes down to goaltending, and coach Mike Sullivan is banking on rookie Matt Murray, not veteran Marc-Andre Fleury, to keep the season alive.
Sullivan opted for Murray for Game 6 on Tuesday, having seen enough of Fleury in Game 5 to know he can't count on him to save this season.
But Murray doesn't just have to be better than Fleury for the Penguins to force a Game 7. He has to be excellent, something he has not been against the Lightning. The Penguins haven't had a sterling goaltending performance in any game in the series. That's why they're trailing 3-2.
The Penguins have outshot the Lightning 196-131. They've scored 2.8 goals per game, including 3.25 in the past four games. But they're losing because the combined save percentage for Murray and Fleury in the series is .885.
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Would it make a difference if Crosby, Malkin and Letang helped the Penguins score on more of their chances? Of course. But they are scoring enough to be ahead in the series. Crosby has two game-winning goals and Malkin has points in three straight games. It's on them to be good. It's not on them to be the biggest difference-maker in Game 6.
That responsibility falls on Murray, who outdueled Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals to get the Penguins into the conference final. But he lost his spot as the No. 1 goaltender after allowing four goals on 30 shots through two periods in Game 4.
The Lightning were better than the Penguins for the first two periods in that game, when the Lightning built a 4-0 lead. But the Penguins scored three goals in the third period, and possibly could have won had Murray stepped up when he was needed. He didn't and Sullivan turned to Fleury, who hadn't played since March 31, to start Game 5.
It didn't work as Fleury couldn't hold a 2-0 lead and could not close the game despite being ahead 3-2 with four minutes left in the third period. The Penguins lost 4-3 in overtime and are one defeat from elimination.
Sullivan appeared to pin the loss on Fleury on Tuesday, saying this is not the time to play through the rust and struggles that come with returning to the lineup after a long layoff.
Re-enter Murray, who needs to be the Penguins' best player in Game 6. If he's not, their season could end no matter what Crosby, Malkin and Letang do.