For the first time in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Pens will be facing an elimination game.
Pittsburgh trails the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-2, in the Eastern Conference Final as Game 6 shifts to Amalie Arena Tuesday night.
But the Pens are not lacking any confidence heading into their Game 6 showdown.
“I believe in my team. I believe in myself. We can come back to Pittsburgh for sure,” center Evgeni 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.”
“We’re pretty confident in the assets that we have and it’s just a matter of playing 60 minutes and playing it the right way,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “(If we do that) I think we’ll be good.”
The Pens put on a dominant display in a 4-2 win in Game 3 of the series in Tampa to take a 2-1 lead. Since then, the Bolts took Games 4 and 5 to grab the series lead.
The two losses marked the first time the Pens had lost back-to-back games since mid-January, a testament of Pittsburgh’s ability to bounce back following losses.
“We’re always confident in our group,” forward Eric Fehr said. “We believe in ourselves. We know we have the players in the dressing room to do it. We just have to go out and play.”
The Pens only have to look at their Game 3 performance of this series for the script to beat the Lightning. In that contest, Pittsburgh completely dominated possession and overwhelmed the Bolts on the road en route to a 4-2 victory. And the game wasn’t even as close as that 4-2 score indicates.
“If we play like Game 3, spend time in the offensive zone and play physical,” Malkin said of how to be successful in Game 6.
“We know the recipe. We know what to do,” Letang said. “I think we proved during that series that we’re able to beat that team playing the right way.”
From Day 1 on the job, head coach Mike Sullivan has preached to his team to embrace the process. That process involved improving every day to eventually play the way they needed to play to be successful. Now, with their season on the line, his message is to embrace the challenge.
“It all depends on how you look at it,” Sullivan said. “For me, it’s a great opportunity for our team to put a stamp on this playoffs and come out and play the type of game that we’ve played for a long time. A spirited game, playing the game the right way where we’re hard to play against and we’re getting everybody involved. If we do that, I think we’ll come out on the right side of this.”
Even though the Pens will be staring down the barrel of the end of their season, this is not the first time they’ve been challenged with adversity. Pittsburgh had a sluggish start to the season and fell all the way to 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Pens have overcome a coaching change, the loss of star players Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury for long stretches due to injuries and still found a way to climb into the No. 2 seed in the Metro Division.
From there all they did was brush aside the New York Rangers and top the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals, all with a 21-year-old rookie goaltender between the pipes in Matt Murray.
The Pens have faced and overcome adversity every step of the way this season. And Sullivan expects the outcome this time around to be no different.
“I don’t know if there’s a team in the league that’s faced more adversity than this team from the start of training camp until where we are today,” Sullivan said. “So these guys have shown their resilience time and time again, and probably now, it’ll be tested more than ever. But I certainly believe in this group we have. I think we’ve got a great group that’s going to respond the right way.”