Pens netminder Matt Murray started the first four games of the Eastern Conference Final, with Marc-Andre Fleury getting the nod for Game 5 on Sunday – which Tampa Bay won in overtime, 4-3, to give them a 3-2 series lead.
Head coach Mike Sullivan was not ready to announce which goalie would be in net for Game 6 on Tuesday at Amalie Arena when he met with the media on Monday.
“I’ll have a decision in the morning,” he said, admitting that it has been and will continue to be a difficult decision moving forward.
“It's a tough one. It's just a tough circumstance,” he said. “As I said, we believe in the guys we have. We think we have quality people. But as I said, it's an imperfect situation. So all things considered, we're trying to make the best decisions that we can, that we think give the team the best chance to win, and that's what we do, and that's what we go with. We'll continue to do that.”
While Fleury was thrilled to get back between the pipes for his first start since March 31 against Nashville, it was bittersweet.
“I was very excited,” he said. “It’s been a while since I played. I was looking forward to it. I’m just disappointed it ended the way it did.”
When asked about Fleury’s performance immediately following the game, head coach Mike Sullivan said he need time to digest it. When he met with the media this morning, Sullivan was ready to assess the play of his netminder, who faced 25 shots.
“I thought Marc made some big saves for us, especially early in the game,” Sullivan said. “I thought he really settled in the game the first period. Might have got away from it a little bit as the game went on.
“To Marc’s defense, it’s a tough situation when you haven’t played in a long time and you get thrown into a high-stakes environment like that. But I thought early on in the game he looked really strong. He was tracking the puck well.”
After the Pens built a 2-0 lead early in the second period, they went on a power play and had a chance to get that huge third goal. But instead of completely taking the game over, they allowed Tampa Bay to get back in it.
Alex Killorn found the back of the net shortly after the penalty expired – which was the first of two goals in a 1:10 span to even the score. Afterward, Fleury said he wasn’t happy he let that first one through and overall, took responsibility for not making those timely stops.
“It wasn't the best I've felt in a game,” Fleury said. “Still though, I've been practicing a lot. I should have been better. Especially on that first goal, it was stupid. Tough to lose.”
Sullivan was asked if in hindsight, the time off was too much for Fleury to overcome. The coach ceded that it was an imperfect situation and they wished the circumstances were different, but they’re not – and reiterated that Fleury is a more than capable netminder.
“I think Marc is a terrific goalie. We wouldn't be where we are today if it wasn't for his body of work this season and how well he's played to put this team in a position to be where it's at,” Sullivan said. “So we're fortunate to have the guys that we have back there that we can lean on, that give this team a chance to win, and Marc has certainly been one of those guys for us.”
LETANG LOOKING TO RESPOND
Last night was a tough one for Kris Letang, as the defenseman was on the ice for all four of Tampa Bay’s goals in the Game 5 loss. While the plus-minus stat isn’t always indicative of a player’s performance, Letang knows that can’t happen again on Tuesday evening – especially as the team is relying on him more than ever with Trevor Daley’s season finished due to a broken ankle.
“It certainly didn’t feel that good to look at it,” Letang said. “But break down the film, it’s a team game. Some nights I will get a plus and I didn’t do anything out there. But certainly, I have to be better and I have a chance to prove it tomorrow.”
Both Sullivan and his players pointed to that second-period power play as the turning point of the game. Instead of building momentum, they lost it to Tampa Bay. And to keep that from happening in Game 6, Letang said it’s all about their mentality.
“Going out on the power play, you have to want to shoot the puck and make sure you don’t try any pretty plays,” he explained. “Just simplify. Playoff goals, they’re not pretty. They’re around the cage and you have to get the puck there and battle your way through.”