TAMPA, FLORIDA – The Pittsburgh Penguins made good on Evgeni Malkin’s pledge to force Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals.
Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist, and Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored Tuesday night in a 5-2 victory that evened the best-of-seven series with the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-3.
Game 7 is Thursday night, with the Penguins hoping to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009 and the Lightning looking to advance to the Cup Final for the second straight year.
“I just told them to embrace the moment. It’s a great opportunity for us. These are the type of circumstances to where you have an opportunity to write your own story,” said Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan.
“They had a certain mindset going into this tonight: ‘We’re going to leave it all out there and do everything we can to bring this back to Pittsburgh,’ ” Sullivan added. “And, certainly that’s what they did.”
Malkin was the most demonstrative of the players expressing confidence the Penguins could take the series back to Pittsburgh, saying he believed in himself, his teammates and that they could return home for a seventh game “for sure.”
Crosby stepped up with his third game-winning goal of the series. The Penguins captain assisted on Kessel’s 5-on-3 power-play goal in the opening period and later skated around Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman into the clear before sending a wrist shot between goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy’s legs for a 3-0 lead in the final minute of the second period.
“We know the circumstances. It makes you go out there with a mindset of playing desperate,” Crosby said. “I think we had confidence in the whole group. I think everyone played great.
“Everyone contributed in their own way. In a big game like this, you don’t do anything special, just do your job. I think that’s gotten us this far.”
The Lightning beat the New York Rangers on the road to go up 3-2 in the East semifinals, but were badly outplayed at home the next game and had to return to Madison Square Garden to finish the series.
Now, they’ll have to win on the road again to make the third Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history.
“I know we can. I’ve got confidence in this group. We believe we can do that,” Tampa Bay’s Ryan Callahan said. “We’ve had success on the road in the playoffs. We’ve had success in their building already. It’s going to be a good one.”