Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Game 7 is only fitting for these Penguins

May 25, 2016

(Photo Credit: Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - MAY 24: Bryan Rust #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins scores a goal on Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa.
(Photo Credit: Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
TAMPA, Fla. — There was “The Save.” That was April 13, 1991.
About a year later, on April 29, 1992, there were those clutch couple of goals (and three assists) from The Captain.
And can it already have been seven years since June 9, 2009? “The Piece,” need I say any more?
Need I remind you what has happened every time the Penguins have won the Stanley Cup?
Here's a hint: It happened again Tuesday night.
The Penguins forced a Game 7. Then they went and won it.
These Penguins took care of the first part by taking apart the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena. It took a strong start and stronger finish, but a 5-2 victory evened the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals to set up the only just ending to an enthralling series.
Game 7.
The best words in sports.
And from Kris Letang's mouth to Pittsburghers' ears, this is how the Penguins need to play it Thursday night at Consol Energy Center: “Keep it simple.”
Letang has played in each of the Penguins' five Game 7s since their last successful Cup run. They took two on the road in 2009, and they've dropped three at home in 2010, '11 and '14.
In so many ways, this series is unlike any in which Letang has played. There is no rhyme or reason to how these six games have gone.
The Lightning took home ice from the Penguins by winning a Game 1 that was turned over to its 21-year-old goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Penguins took back home ice in Game 6 by turning back to their 21-year-old goalie, Matt Murray, who turns 22 on Wednesday.
If you're the gambling type, go with Murray.
Although, if you're the gambling type, you probably should go into hiding until the series is over. No lead is safe.
The Penguins nearly lost in the third period Tuesday night what the Lightning came close to giving away in the third period Friday night: the game.
But that nearly doesn't really matter when it comes to the only thing that does matter in the playoffs. And that would be the result.
Winger Bryan Rust, easily the Penguins' best forward in their Game 5 loss, guaranteed the Penguins would win Game 6 with his late third-period goal. It was set up by the Penguins' second best forward from Game 5 and easily their best of the series, Chris Kunitz.
Think about that for a minute.
Kunitz, given up on by most Penguins fans, and Rust, never really considered by many Penguins fans, are fanning the flames for the Penguins.
But centers Evgeni Malkin (a point in each of the past four games) and Sidney Crosby (a goal and an assist in Game 6) have never played fewer average minutes in a postseason series.
Oh, and franchise goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been relegated to the role of backup for the second time in the postseason.
Somehow, however, the Penguins are in position to do what they've been unable to do for seven years.
They're one win from returning to the Cup Final. All they have to do is get the one win at home that has eluded them since the days Crosby and Malkin showed up to save the franchise.
Every great Penguins club has one thing in common. Forcing and then winning a Game 7.
Malkin, in his most defiant NHL moment, boldly said Monday that the Penguins were going to bring the East finals “back to Pittsburgh.”
He didn't need to say a word late Tuesday night.
His smile said it all.
Game on.
Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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