The Pens need their stars now more than ever.
Pittsburgh faces an elimination game when they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final at Amalie Arena on Tuesday evening.
A loss and their season comes to an end. A win and the series will be extended to a Game 7 to be played in Pittsburgh on Thursday. And it’s time for the team’s leaders to step up in the season’s most pivotal game.
“It’s a huge game for our leadership,” center Evgeni Malkin said. “I believe in my team. I believe in myself. We can come back to Pittsburgh for sure.”
Malkin, who has one goal and three points in the ECF, is one of those leaders. Not only is Malkin a former NHL MVP, two-time NHL scoring champion and six-time NHL All-Star, he also won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2009 as the league’s playoff MVP while leading the Pens to a Stanley Cup title.
If Malkin is looking for any kind of inspiration, he only needs to look back at that 2009 run. The Pens found themselves in a similar scenario during that Final showdown with the Detroit Red Wings.
Pittsburgh lost Game 5 to Detroit in a blowout, 5-0. As a result, they trailed the defending Stanley Cup champions 3-2 in the series and needed to win both Games 6 and 7 to win the title.
The team responded with matching 2-1 victories, including Game 7 in Detroit, to win its third Stanley Cup title in team history.
“We lost in Detroit, 3-2, and came back and won the Stanley Cup,” Malkin said. “It’s not easy, but our focus is on one game. Just one game, 60 minutes.
“It’s a tough game. Tampa is a good team. If we play right for a full 60 minutes we’ll win.”
The Pens know what that 60-minute game looks like. In fact, they only need to look at the way they played in Game 3 against the Lightning, which took place in Tampa Bay. Pittsburgh put on a dominant display that resulted in a 4-2 victory.
“If we play like Game 3, spend time in the offensive zone and play physical,” Malkin said. “If you don’t shoot, you won’t score. We need more shots.”
In some respects, the Pens could have easily been on the flipside of their current situation. After all, Game 5 went into overtime and was anybody’s to win. Tampa Bay scored the game-tying goal with 3:16 left in regulation to force overtime. Otherwise, it could have been Tampa Bay facing elimination in Game 6.
“We had a good chance to win,” Malkin said. “There was three minutes left. One mistake and they score. If they don’t score we win. We lost a little focus in the last 10 minutes. We need to play a little better in the D zone.”
The Pens’ losses in Games 4 and 5 were their first back-to-back defeats since Jan. 12 and 15. Pittsburgh has been able to bounce back after losses for the past few months, and Malkin expects the same.
“It’s not over. We still have a chance to come back to Pittsburgh,” Malkin said. “We have a great team. It’s not easy winning the Stanley Cup. It’s 3-2, but we still have a chance to come back and win.”