With six seconds left on the clock, Marcus Pettersson in the box, and Andrei Vasilevskiy on the bench, Tampa Bay lined up for an offensive zone faceoff looking for the equalizer in Saturday’s matchup with Pittsburgh.

The Lightning won the draw and quickly got a chance, but Alex Nedeljkovic made the save and instead of holding onto the puck and setting up another faceoff, he calmly played it into the corner to kill the remaining time.

The Penguins staved off a third-period push from their opponent – who rallied from a 4-1 deficit – to win in regulation by a score of 5-4. Pittsburgh is now 6-0-2 in the last eight games and officially moved into the second Wild Card playoff spot.

While it’s rewarding to go from the outside looking in, Sidney Crosby said the Penguins have got to keep the same mindset moving forward into their last five games against Toronto, Detroit, Boston, Nashville, and the New York Islanders.

“I think what we have to do hasn't changed for a while now. Our game has been pretty good, and we just got to continue to go a game at a time here,” the captain said. “That’s served us really well, and I think that approach has got us to this point, and given us success. So, we just got to continue to play the same way, and I think that's a good thing for us. We don't have to change a whole lot. We just got to keep going.”

Crosby speaks with the media

Crosby opened the scoring for Pittsburgh with his 40th goal of the season, reaching that mark for the third time in his 19-year career, while Evgeni Malkin tallied twice. Michael Bunting got the game-winner, while Kris Letang also got in the goal column. Nedeljkovic made 30 saves in his eighth straight start.

“I've said to you guys all along here that one of the things we love about Ned is his battle level and his compete level, and I think it was on display tonight. That's not an easy team to play against,” Sullivan said. “They tend to generate chances in flurries, where they get multiple chances in a short period of time, on their power play in particular – I thought Ned made some huge saves against their power play all night.

“But on that 6-on-4 at the end of the game, he made a couple of big saves that, for me, is the difference between winning and losing. That's what he does. That's what we love about him.”

Nedeljkovic didn’t have a lot of action early in the game, as Crosby’s line with Drew O’Connor and Bryan Rust set the tone early, helping the Penguins build a 6-0 edge in shots in a strong first period. Tampa Bay did put together one of those flurries Sullivan mentioned near the end, but Nedeljkovic and his teammates staved it off.

Nedeljkovic speaks with the media

There was more action in the second, with Malkin getting his first of the day just over six minutes in. After Steven Stamkos cut the deficit to one and the Bolts pushed from there, Letang got a timely goal to swing the momentum back just over two minutes later.

With just over three minutes to go in the middle frame, Malkin got his second of the day with his dad Vladimir and mom Natalia back in the stands, getting emotional as they watched their son. They’ve been good luck charms since traveling to Pittsburgh for the first time since the pandemic, as Evgeni also scored twice on March 28 versus Columbus.

“Geno's family means a lot to him, and I think when his parents come into town, he clearly wants to be at his best,” Sullivan said. “There’s not any doubt in my mind that when his parents are here and his family's here and when he's around the people that he cares deeply about, I think he's at his very best.”

The Lightning elevated their game in the third, getting on the board just 25 seconds in. There was a scary sequence a few minutes later when referee Steve Kozari had to be stretchered off the ice after a collision at center ice with Lightning defenseman Haydn Fleury (who was helped to the locker room). Both teams skated over to give him stick taps while he was being wheeled away.

"It was bad. Didn't look good. Obviously, we wish Steve the best, and hopefully he's all right," Crosby said. "But I think anytime something like that happens and you've been a part of games like that, you just try to regroup as fast as you can, and they probably did a better job of that than we did."

Tampa Bay got another tally at the 7:23 mark, and Stamkos scored his second man-advantage goal to tie it 4-4 at the 10:45 mark.

“Tampa is a really good team, they have one of the more dynamic offenses in the league. They clearly have the best power play in the league, and they have the ability to score multiple goals in a short period of time,” Sullivan said. “They've done that time and time again, not just to our team. So, you got to give Tampa credit… but I give our players credit. I thought we just hung in there. We dug in trying to get back on our toes, get momentum back.”

The Penguins responded with some looks that included one from Malkin off the post before Bunting made a great play to kick the puck from his skate to his stick and backhand it in, his second goal in as many games, both with equally epic celebrations.

“We're in a fight here and it's fun hockey to be a part of, it's exciting,” Bunting said. “The adrenaline was going and yeah, all my emotions showed in that celebration. I’m sure the whole rink heard me screaming.”

Both Sullivan and Crosby credited the play of that line with Rickard Rakell as a big reason for Pittsburgh battling back. Bunting said it feels like the trio is building chemistry “every single time we’re out there together,” and that he’s gaining more confidence and comfortability with each game he’s played since being acquired from Carolina at the trade deadline.

“I'm excited to be a Penguin. It's been a lot of fun. The guys have been great and welcoming me in, and it's starting to feel like, ‘yeah, it's my team and I'm part of the squad,’ so it's nice,” Bunting said.

Next up is the Maple Leafs on Monday in Toronto.

“We're in a good place right now. We still got a long way to go,” Nedeljkovic said. “We can't be satisfied with what we've done so far. We have to keep pushing, keep working and focus on the next game.”