Less than five minutes after this game ended, Marc-Andre Fleury sat in front of a cluster of reporters, microphones and cameras politely answering questions about a crucial and ugly overtime loss. As he usually does, he fielded every query honestly and earnestly. It was hardly an ideal situation for him but completed his postgame media obligations the same way he has countless times before in his career.
After the media scrum broke up, Fleury just sat at his stall as other teammates held their own scrums with his leg pads still on. He had a despondent almost vacant look on his face. Teammates venturing to the further reaches of the Penguins' facilities tapped Fleury on the leg or offered encouraging words. Fleury acknowledged them but still looked off to no where in particular. Former Penguins star center Pierre Larouche sat next to Fleury and they chatted for a few minutes in French. Briefly after their chat Fleury took off his remaining equipment, slammed his shoes off the door to the dressing room and exited.
Fleury knew he needed to be better. He admitted as much.
"It wasn't the best I felt in a game," said Fleury. "Still though, I've been practicing a lot. I should have been better."
The puck looked like it was Fleury's enemy at times in this game, especially in the late stages of the game. Even when he made saves, they were adventures at times.
In contrast, Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy got stronger as the game wore on. His biggest moment came with 4:18 left in regulation. As his team trailed 3-2, Vasilevsky stoned left winger Chris Kunitz in tight on a backhander:
A goal there gives the Penguins a two-goal lead late and virtually secures the win.
Instead, less than a minute later, the Lightning tie the game and eventually win it in overtime.
It's not fair or accurate to place all the blame on Fleury with this awful loss. There were plenty of passengers on this train including his long-time teammates Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang. But it's absolutely fair to state Vasilevskiy make a timely save at a crucial juncture while Fleury did not.
After the game, Lightning coach Jon Cooper summed up the importance of the position very well.
"When your guy's kicking them out," said Cooper. "You just kind of grow a little bit taller on the bench, and that's what he's done for us."
The Penguins scored the game's opening goal at the last second – literally of the first period. Right winger Bryan Rust charged a puck up the left wing from the neutral zone. Fending off hooks from Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. Rust had his backhand shot denied by the right leg of Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy then fell over Vasilevskiy's right leg. The rebound sat above the crease and was swept in past Vasilevsky's left skate by a forehand shot from defenseman Brian Dumoulin with 1.7 seconds left on the clock. The Lightning protested the goal but to no avail. Assists went to Rust and Kunitz.
They made it a 2-0 game early in the second period. From center point, defenseman Olli Maatta fired a shot/pass to the left of the cage. Left winger Carl Hagelin was able to tap the puck with his forehand to the front of the crease. Right winger Patric Hornqvist was sitting right there to tap it in for an easy goal by the left leg of Vasilevskiy at the 1:30 mark. Hagelin and Hornqvist got assists.
The Lightning got on the scoreboard at 13:15 of the second. After defenseman Andrej Sustr banked a puck from the left wing off the end boards, Lightning center Alex Killorn settled it on the left half wall and ripped a laser of a wrister from the left circle over Fleury's right shoulder on the near side. The puck glanced off the underside of the cross bar and into the cage. It hit the inside of the cage on the far side and bounced out quickly. No one – including Killorn – seemed to know he had scored until an official pointed at the netting. Sustr had the lone assist.
They made it a tie game 50 seconds later. After Sustr drove a puck up the right wing, center Vladislav Namestnikov picked the puck up and from the right circle, he fed a cross-ice pass to right winger Kucherov in the left cicle. Kucherov ripped a wrister past the blocker of sprawling Fleury and hit twine. Namestnikov had the only assist.
The Penguins cashed in late again. After a strong zone entry by Maatta, center Evgeni Malkin settled the puck in the high slot and fired a wrister on net. Vasilevskiy made the initial save but allowed a rebound. Kunitz hacked it under Vasilevkiy and through his five hole for a goal with 50 seconds left in the period. Malkin had the lone assist.
Following Vasilevskiy's huge save on Kunitz, the Lightning nearly tied the game with 3:50 left. From the left circle, a wrister by Lightning right winger Ryan Callahan glanced off Fleury's left shoulder, hit the far post and danced along the goal line failing to cross the line. Play was halted for a review but there was no score.
Shortly after that, the game was tied again with 3:16 left in regulation. Kucherov gained the offensive on the left wing and left a drop pass for center Tyler Johnson. Johnson shuffled a backhander from the left half wall. Fleury kicked it out with right leg but left a rebound behind the cage where Kucherov was positioned. Kucherov settled the puck and tucked in a forehand wraparound by Fleury's left skate for a goal. It was a huge goal at a huge moment. Assists went to Johnson and right winger Ondrej Palat.
It took the Lightning only 53 seconds into the overtime period to claim the win. Taking a pass from Palat off the right half wall, Kucherov fed a pass from center point to defenseman Jason Garrison moving up the left wall. From the left circle, Garrison lifted a wrister. Positioned above the crease, the puck hit off Johnson's back and deflected past the glove hand of Fleury. Assists went to Garrison and Kucherov.
-Fleury seemed to start the game strong. He came through with a couple tough saves early and had things buttoned down. He was fairly steady even after he allowed two goals. Things just collapsed in the end on him. A fluky goal ended things for him in overtime. We're fully confident Fleury is capable of bouncing back. He has a history of shaking off bad games the past two seasons. But after tonight, it's very fair to question him.
-Letang had a rough game. He was sloppy with the puck. He took a slashing penalty. He was on the ice for all four of the Lightning's goals. It's no coincidence one of the Penguins' worst games of the postseason was one of his worst individual games of the postseason. For a variety of reasons, it seemed like he alternated between playing with Maatta and Dumoulin quite a bit. Perhaps he was thrown off a bit by that change but this team needs a much better performance from arguably their most irreplaceable player.
-The same applies to Crosby. Beyond a nice zone entry which led to Hornqvist's goal, he was largely inert in this game. Having ineffective right winger Beau Bennett on his left wing wasn't helpful but the Penguins need more of their leader. By no means was he a detriment. He wins faceoffs. He draws top defensive assignments. He does a lot of little things which help. But in a game like this, it's fair to expect him to do the big things.
-One of those big things would involve the power play which went 0 for 3 tonight including one brief four-on-three sequence. One crucial juncture came in the second period after a Kucherov minor was killed, Killorn scored his goal. That really went a long way towards swinging momentum in favor of the Lightning and eliminating the Penguins' two-goal lead.
-Losing defenseman Trevor Daley is a killer, but Dumoulin and Maatta did their best to make up for his absence. They were a little more aggressive than usual offensively and both players had a hand in all three of the team's goals.
-Maatta especially seemed sharp coming off his three-game string of healthy scratches. It seemed like he was able to reset mentally coming off being scratched. Beyond a double minor penalty for high sticking, his game was really sharp.
-The line of Rust, Malkin and Kunitz had a really strong game. It was probably the Penguins' best line tonight. Kunitz has found some chemistry with Malkin the past two games and Rust was a ball of energy most of the game.
-Rust in particularly really drove things for the Penguins. He helped set up the game's opening goal, knocked a pane of glass loose with a solid hit on Hedman, blocked a Hedman slapper and drew a penalty. Bryan Rust was a driver in this game.
-With their namesake, Shawn Michaels, on hand, the HBK line was somewhat quiet. They had a few chances here or there but given how much this line has meant to the team as of late, it just didn't live up to the moment.
-Center Eric Fehr had a monster hit in the first period on Lightning left winger Jonathan Drouin in the first period which gave the Penguins a little jump:
-Bennett returned to the lineup after missing 17 games due to an undisclosed injury. He replaced struggling left winger Conor Sheary but hardly distinguished himself. He had a turnover which kind of led to Letang's penalty. If there's a positive to this game for Bennett, it's that he took a few bumps and didn't seem to have any issues physically.
-Kucherov has really driven this team as of late. At least the last two games. He's such a wonderful offensive talent who is also responsible defensively. His fingerprints were all over this victory.
-Vasilevskiy gave up three goals but he was really tuned in most of the game. As mentioned above, he came through with a critical save at a key juncture and allowed his team to win.
-His goal was a bit fluky given that it went in off his back, but Johnson has stepped up the past two games of the series after being pretty quiet in the early stages. He's been a big reason why this team has had success the past two postseasons.
-Sustr was pretty key on the Lightning's first two goals. He didn't play many minutes (14:01) but he had a key role in this comeback.
-Hornqvist stopped short of guaranteeing a win in Game 6:
"It's one game at a time. It's not first to three, it's first to four. Obviously, they're in a better spot than us right now. If we play the game we can, we're going to be fine here. We're in a tough position. You know what? It's no doubt in my mind that we're going to come back here for a Game 7."
-Sullivan is confident in his team heading into Game 6:
"Yeah, you know, this is the first time we've been in this position. I know that our guys will respond the right way. They have for four months, five months now. So any time your back's against the wall, you have to heighten the urgency even that much more, heighten the intensity that much more. I told them after the game it's disappointing, we're all disappointed we didn't get the result tonight, but we can't change it. So all we've got to do is we've got to gather ourselves, we've got to go back at it, and try to win a game. This group has done a terrific job all year of just staying in the moment and not dwelling on the past, not getting ahead of itself, and just trying to focus on that one game in hand, and that's what we're going to have to do."
-Sullivan declined to get into Fleury's game:
"I'm not going to assess his game right after the game. It's obviously a disheartening game we just lost. I'd rather digest it a little bit before I jump to any conclusions."
-Dumoulin went to bat for Fleury:
“He played well. He's a competitor in that net. We had some breakdowns. He made some big saves. Definitely not his fault. He made some really huge saves throughout that game to keep us in it.”
-As did Kunitz:
“I think [Fleury] was great. He stopped all the ones that we needed him too. They had a couple of good shots. They had rebounds where guys were coming around the net. Those are tough things to do. We have to do a better job of clearing pucks and not giving them the odd-man rushes. Things like that, we have to have better protection in our [defensive] zone that gives it layers to make it tough for them to get to our net.”
-Cooper went to bat for Fleury as well:
"Well, this is a Stanley Cup champion. He's been an outstanding goaltender in this league for a long, long time. The one thing I don't think -- you can't change the way you play because another goaltender is going in. I don't think that's anything that can go into the mindset. The only thing we really knew is he hadn't played a lot. He played one period against us, and I think it takes time for the guys to get the feel for the game. But he's a big time goaltender, and he's proven that throughout his career. You're not just facing the goaltender, though. You're facing the Pittsburgh Penguins. He's one player on their team. You have to beat their team. It's not just beating one guy. So whoever's playing in net doesn't matter to us. Somehow, no matter who's in there, you've got to find a way to beat him, and we did that tonight."
-Kunitz spoke about Vasilevskiy's save on his backhander late:
"It would have been nice to put that in. Get that cushion of two goals but he played well. He's played well all series. We still have to do a better job of putting pucks on him and finding rebounds."
-Fleury was optimistic:
“We're still confident we have a team that can beat them. Nothing's over. It's best out of seven.”
“We have character. We've turned around our season mid-way through and I think we can turn around this series as well. We've just to stick with it and try to put this one behind us and look forward to the next game.”
-Kunitz knows what's at stake:
"We've got to go out and try to get a win in Tampa. We have to do a better job of playing 60 minutes of hockey though.”
-Dumoulin spoke to his team's approach to Game 6:
"Throughout this playoff, we've just looked at it 'next game.' We just got to win it. We've just got to focus on that next game. We've got to go down to Tampa and focus on winning that before looking ahead.”
-Dumoulin dismissed a suggestion his team got too comfortable with a two-goal lead:
“I don't think so. We kept pressing. They're a skilled team. If we give them room, they're going to make plays and put it in the back of the net. We've seen that throughout this series, that if we give them time, they're capable of scoring goals quick.”
-So did Kunitz:
"I don't think so. I think it's tough to keep momentum all the time. I think we probably weren't aware as we should be on the power play at the end. They're coming out of the box. We have to do a better job of guys realizing what position they have and who's got what guy.”
-Sullivan also touched base on that particular power-play chance in the second period prior to Killorn's goal:
"Well, when we had the 2-0 lead, I thought -- you know, we had a chance on that one power play to get that third goal. They score right after it. So I thought we could have tried to just simplify the game and to try to get the momentum back, but I think they got a boost. But for the most part, I thought for most of the night we were a pretty good hockey team. We were playing the game the right way. I thought we had a lot of offensive zone time. We generated a fair amount of scoring chances. We controlled the shot clock. We did a lot of the things going into this game that we set out to do. We've just got to find a way to find the back of the net a little bit more."
-Maatta was down on his team's second period:
"I don't think our second period was good enough. I think we all know we have to be better. Obviously, that 3-3 goal, it shouldn't happen. Just tough puck luck. That's the way it goes. We've just got to go back to Tampa.”
-Bennett assessed his return:
"I felt pretty good. My legs felt pretty good. Having that long layoff, you never know exactly how you're going to feel jumping back into the conference final. But I felt pretty good. … It's never easy to jump after a long layoff but I think this time around as opposed to the last few times, I wasn't fighting the puck at all. I felt like I was able to be in the right position and make a couple of plays here and there. That confidence will grow.”
-Maatta was curt when asked about his own individual play and focused on the big picture:
"I felt okay out there. I know I'm better. It's all about wins and losses this time of year."
-Johnson gave a bit of play-by-play of the goal:
"I was just out there in front. I saw [Garrison] start to shoot it, and I thought it was going for my head again. So I turned around, and I got lucky. It just nicked me. I wasn't sure if it hit me or not, but I was just more excited to see it in the back of the net."
-Killorn spoke about Vasilevskiy's play:
"The game is so much about these little plays that happen with momentum shifts. He makes a huge save and we go in to score in the other end. [Vasilevskiy] played great. He's been great for us the whole series. To step in and fill [goaltender Ben Bishop's] role. He's done a phenomenal job.”
-Killorn is expecting a big response from the Penguins:
"I think they're going to give us their best shot the next game as well. I think they've played really well I think we've played well too. It's been a tight, tight series. There's not much room out there. But I think think we'd be kidding ourselves if we didn't think they were going to come with everything they've got the next game.”
-Cooper joked about his team's propensity for playing quick overtimes:
"I told the guys I've never seen a team that likes to play overtime so much but doesn't like to play it for very long. It is kind of remarkable that the games have ended as fast as they have, but being around the game a bit, that's when it happens. You know, you look back, there's a lot of games in overtime that end quick, and you have to be ready. We learned our lesson from the last time we were here, when they beat us in overtime. You can't sit here and say, okay, this is another period. It's like another shift. There is no time left. You get scored on with .7 seconds left, well, boys, we've got 40 minutes left to get back into this. But you get scored on in overtime, there's no second chance, and you have to come out ready to go."
-Cooper lauded Kucherov:
"Well, with him, I truly believe, when you're a rising star in this league, as he is, and he's one of those guys for our team -- every team's got one of those guys at some point. It just seems the bigger the moment, the bigger they rise to the occasion. He is proving that last year wasn't a fluke, and he is -- he's just a gifted, skilled, determined player. He's really a pleasure to coach. The one thing, we talk about his goals and everything about that, but I think he's plus-17 in the playoffs. That's you're not just being responsible and scoring on one end. That means you're being responsible on the other end too. I don't think guys like him get enough credit for how they play the whole ice, and he's a big time player for us."
-Cooper doesn't want to get too far ahead of himself:
"Let's pump the brakes a little bit here. There's still more series left. We feel good and fortunate that we're up, 3-2, and going home, but we still have to win another game. But in saying that, the more times you get put in these situations and you're behind the wheel navigating what's going on out there, the better you are to handle them, and I think our guys are doing a heck of a job this year handling all sorts of situations, whether it's injuries, being down, being up, just the list goes on. The guys have really matured as a group on how to win hockey games."
-Johnson took a puck to the mouth during warmups of Game 4 and wore a shield for that entire game. He ditched the shield tonight and spoke to the status of his face:
"Just got some stitches and some teeth. We'll know more after everything settles down. I didn't want to play with anything on my face. So that was an easy thing for me. At the end of the day, let me make the decision, and I made it. "
-The Penguins led in shots, 34-25.
-Letang and Garrison each led the game with five shots.
-Letang led the game with 27:51.
-Hedman led the Lightning with 26:56.
-The Penguins controlled faceoffs, 37-31 (54 percent).
-Malkin was 11 for 16 (69 percent).
-Lightning center Valtteri Filppula was 14 for 28 (50 percent).
-Cole and Letang each led the game with four blocked shots.
-Right winger J.T. Brown led the Lightning with two blocked shots.
-How bad was this loss? Ugh:
-The Penguins tied a franchise mark:
-Dumoulin scored his first career playoff goal and only the second of his career overall. The first goal also came against the Lightning in a 4-2 win Dec. 15, 2014.
-Fleury appeared in his 100th career postseason game.
-Kucherov has multiple points in three consecutive games.
-Johnson made some history:
-Johnson tends to score important goals:
-Game 5 is usually pretty crucial:
(Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)