The best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning is now a best of three. With the series tied at two games each, the pivotal Game 5 is in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
The way Friday night’s game ended, with the Lightning surviving the third period to prevail, 4-3, some significant questions emerged for Sunday’s game. Pittsburgh has three important questions that will officially be answered by the time the puck drops, but preliminary answers have emerged.
First, what is the status of Trevor Daley? The Penguins’ outstanding defenseman suffered a leg injury with 9:07 remaining in the second period on Friday following a collision with Ryan Callahan.
Everyone in Amalie Arena and a national television audience saw Daley vainly attempting to get to his feet, but was eventually taken to the locker room. He did not return.
There is a genuine feeling among some who cover the games full time that losing Daley for the remainder of the series, if that occurs, spells doom for the Penguins. If he is that important, it does not look good for Pittsburgh.
Daley did not take part in Sunday’s morning skate, making it highly unlikely he will play.
UPDATE: Daley is officially out for the playoffs with a broken ankle.
“He’s a tough guy to replace, but we’ve dealt with that all year,” said Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan.
Second, who will start in goal for Pittsburgh? Matt Murray has a 9-4 record, a 2.33 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.
He has been spectacular at times, but when the Penguins fell behind 4-0 on Friday, the speculation regarding his status for Game 5 began. Murray’s backup, veteran Marc-Andre Fleury, has plenty of experience.
Fleury has won a Stanley Cup before, helping the Penguins celebrate in 2009. He finished Friday night’s game, his first action since March 31.
Changing goaltenders is a routine motivator used by coaches. Sullivan appears to be no different. The morning skate provided another preliminary answer when Fleury came out with the first team, making it likely he will start on Sunday.
UPDATE: Fleury will start in goal.
Third, which version of Evgeni Malkin shows up on Sunday? The one who helped lead the furious third period charge on Friday, or the one who went without a goal the previous eight games?
The Lightning would prefer the version that had little impact in the first three games. Malkin looked more like the center who scored 27 goals and dished out 31 assists during the season.
Finally, we can thank Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook for creating some awesome bulletin board material. His explains his reasons, and utmost confidence, why the Penguins will go on to defeat the Lightning in six games.
“It’s a good thing for the Penguins that they will get the last laugh,” he wrote.
It’s up to the Lightning to change the script.