While the outcome didn’t go their way, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan felt that Game 5 may have been his team’s best game of the series. They’re going to need to replicate that performance twice more as they face elimination Monday night (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, live stream) against the Washington Capitals.
A 3-2 third period lead in Game 5 disappeared after 52 seconds when Evgeny Kuznetsov tied the game following a miscommunication between Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang. Early goals have plagued the Penguins in this series. They’ve allowed six goals within the opening 2:08 of periods, including four in the first minute. They were able to overcome two of them in a Game 1 come-from-behind win, but a pair in Game 2 helped the Capitals build a 3-0 lead en route to a 4-1 victory.
Kuznetsov’s goal earned a big spotlight because of Letang’s decision-making that led to the free space for the Capitals forward. So while there was plenty for Sullivan to like offensively about what the Penguins did on Saturday night — 39 shots on net, 27 at 5-on-5, a 56 percent possession advantage — there are key areas to clean up on the back end with little margin for error.
“Certainly, we’ll address some of the areas where we think we can improve and get better that will help us in Game 6,” Sullivan said on Sunday. “But our players are well aware of the type of game that we play when we have success and why we have success. We just have to remember that going into Game 6.”
The Penguins have not lost an elimination game since 2015 when the New York Rangers bounced them in the first round, so with their season on the line, the message will be to keep things consistent and channel their success from Game 5. And the questions about any sort of nerves will be met with all too familiar responses.
“You just go out there and make sure you’re not afraid of it,” said Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist. “Make sure you embrace your work ethic and have fun with it. That’s why we start playing hockey and that’s why we’re here today. Just go out there and enjoy it.”