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Penguins, Crosby force Game 7 vs. Lightning with 5-2 win

TAMPA, Fla. – For the second straight season, the Tampa Bay Lightning failed to close out an opponent in an Eastern Conference Final Game 6 at home. 

The good news is that they went on to defeat the New York Rangers in Game 7 last year, earning a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

The bad news is that the Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t the New York Rangers.

The Penguins forced a Game 7 on Tuesday night with a 5-2 win over the Lightning. Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist after going scoreless in his previous two games. Rookie goalie Matt Murray – pulled in Tampa two periods into Game 4, and benched in favor of Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 5 – made 28 saves.

It wasn't the blowout loss the Lightning suffered last season, thanks to an impressive third-period rally. But it was still a loss.

The first period saw the Lightning lose a goal to a coach’s challenge and give up a goal thanks to a delay of game call.

After Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped Evgeni Malkin’s point blank shot at the other end, it appeared that Jonathan Drouin had given the Lightning a lead with a goal set up by a perfect Ondrej Palat feed. But the Penguins called for a coach’s challenge to see if the play was offside, and it was by a fraction as Drouin entered the zone slightly before the puck did – no goal.

The Penguins struck on a 5-on-3 power play that saw the Lightning’s two best defensemen both in the penalty box.

Anton Stralman took an iffy interference penalty against Tom Kuhnhackl. Just 41 seconds later, Victor Hedman was whistled for delay of game after he shot the puck from inside his own zone over the glass behind the Penguins’ goal. (A facet of this rule that’s inexplicably dumb and should be changed, but that’s a debate for another night).

With the two-man advantage, Sidney Crosby fed the puck for a Phil Kessel deflection and a 1-0 lead at 18:46.

With Crosby and Malkin getting points on the first goal, it was time for the Penguins’ other maligned mainstay to make his presence felt: Kris Letang.

Letang scored on a rocket shot at 7:40 of the second period: Tapping his stick for the puck, getting a pass from Conor Sheary and beating Vasilevskiy cleanly.

The Penguins dominated the second frame as they did the first, possessing the puck, sabotaging Lightning chances around Murray’s crease and getting pucks in deep behind the Tampa defense to earn offensive zone time.

Then, with 26 seconds left in the second, Crosby beat three Lightning players for his sixth of the playoffs to make it 3-0. 

But in the third period, Brian Boyle happened.

The Lightning started their rally when Boyle threw the puck at the net and it deflected off of Kessel past Murray at 5:30.

It was Boyle again, with a nasty snipe past Murray, at 12:43, to cut the deficit to one goal.

For Boyle, it was goal No. 5 of the postseason. But the Lightning couldn’t get the equalizer, as Bryan Rust’s blazing speed resulted in a breakaway goal at 17:52. Nick Bonino had the empty netter to clinch it. 

The Penguins got a strong game from their rookie netminder, who reclaimed the crease. They got their offense from their star players, who reclaimed some respect for their ability to excel in a key game. And most importantly, they reclaimed home ice, where Game 7 will be played on Thursday night, with a chance to play for the Stanley Cup in the balance for both teams.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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