OTTAWA -- The Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves in a familiar position heading home following their 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final at Canadian Tire Centre on Tuesday.
Although they controlled play for much of the night, they weren't able to finish off the Senators and now face a Game 7 in Pittsburgh on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final.
This is Pittsburgh's fourth consecutive Stanley Cup Playoff series when it failed to close out its opponent on the first try dating to the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks last season. The Penguins won each of the previous three series, but they could be playing with fire against the Senators, who demonstrated their resilience by rebounding from a 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday and by coming back after falling behind 1-0 in the second period Tuesday.
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"I don't see a common denominator other than the fact we're playing good hockey teams," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of their inability to close out series on the first try. "I think it's hard to win. We're playing good hockey teams, and these guys, they're playing with their backs against the wall."
It was difficult for Sullivan to be too hard on the Penguins because they dominated for long stretches, particularly early in the second period, when they outshot the Senators 16-3 over the first 8:47 and grabbed a 1-0 lead on Evgeni Malkin's goal at 4:51.
But they couldn't find a way to score a second goal against Senators goaltender Craig Anderson, who made 45 saves. That proved costly when Bobby Ryan tied the game with his 5-on-3 power-play goal with 6:45 left in the second.
Mike Hoffman scored the winning goal on a 3-on-2 rush with a slap shot from the top of the left faceoff circle that went in off the far post 1:34 into the third period. After that, the Senators pushed harder, and the Penguins struggled over the next 10 minutes to get through the neutral zone and create scoring chances against Ottawa's 1-3-1 system.
"We generated some good chances and you've got to convert on those," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "It's the time of year when you've got to put them in, but the chances were there. We did a lot of good things, so we bring in that same effort in Game 7 and we give ourselves a good chance."
Video: PIT@OTT, Gm6: Sullivan talks Pens' Game 6 performance
That was the prevailing opinion of the Penguins. If they play the same game at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday, they'll have a great chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the second consecutive season.
They outshot the Senators 46-30 and dominated 75-46 in shot attempts.
"I think we had great game," Malkin said. "We missed so many great chances. It's a hard game. We played against a good team, and after the last game, they changed and they played better. We know it's a tight game. We'll go back home and win the last one. We play at home. It's a good chance to win."
One area where the Penguins need to improve is special teams. They had a chance to take control of the game with two power plays in the first period and couldn't convert. Then, after penalties 36 seconds apart to defensemen Ron Hainsey (interference at 11:45) and Ian Cole (high sticking at 12:21) led to Ryan's tying goal at 5-on-3, the Penguins had another chance on the power play on Marc Methot's holding penalty with 4:56 left in the second. They managed one shot on goal.
But Sullivan was pleased with how Pittsburgh played overall.
"I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances," he said. "We didn't score tonight. The puck didn't go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we'll get the result."
Video: PIT@OTT, Gm6: Malkin backhands home own rebound
That was the Penguins' approach last season after losing 4-2 at home in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final despite outshooting the Sharks 46-21. Sure enough, they won 3-1 in Game 6 at San Jose.
This season, they won the first three games against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round but lost 5-4 in Game 4 before closing out the series with a 5-2 home win in Game 5. Things got trickier in the second round against the Washington Capitals when they let a 3-1 series lead slip away before pulling out a 2-0 road win in Game 7.
Now they face another Game 7 with their hopes of repeating as Stanley Cup champions hanging in the balance.
"Obviously, we're disappointed in the result, but I don't think we can get discouraged by that," Sullivan said. "I think we've got to take the positives from it and we've got to build on it. We've got to become a more determined team for Game 7."