PITTSBURGH — The Tampa Bay Lightning are one win away from a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
Tyler Johnson deflected Jason Garrison’s wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove 53 seconds into overtime to give the Lightning a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday night to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Game 6 is Tuesday night in Tampa.
Nikita Kucherov scored twice to boost his postseason total to an NHL-best 11 and Alex Killorn picked up his fifth of the playoffs as the Lightning handed the Penguins consecutive losses for the first time since January. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 31 shots.
Brian Dumoulin, Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist scored for the Penguins, who lost for the first time all season when leading after two periods. Marc-Andre Fleury made 21 saves in his first start since March and couldn’t get his hands on Johnson’s redirect.
Fleury played the role of dutiful backup when coach Mike Sullivan stuck with rookie Matt Murray even after Fleury recovered from a concussion sustained on March 31. Sullivan turned to the franchise’s all-time winningest goaltender for the third period of Game 4 after Murray surrendered four goals and stuck with Fleury after watching him turn aside all seven shots he faced as the Penguins nearly came all the way back.
Back in his customary starting spot for the first time in 52 days, Fleury appeared to be plenty fresh. He sprinted in full gear onto the Consol Energy Center ice for his 100th career playoff appearance and was his usually steady self —including a split save on Johnson in the second period that few of his brethren can make. He was helped by teammates more than willing to get on their bellies. The Penguins blocked 22 shots before they even made it to the goal crease and continued their series-long dominance in creating pressure at the other end.
Dumoulin gave Pittsburgh the lead with less than a second to go in the first, his first goal in more than 17 months set up by a spectacular effort from 5-foot-11 forward Bryan Rust, giving away 7 inches to Victor Hedman yet somehow keeping the Tampa Bay defenseman behind him as he crashed the net. Dumoulin’s rebound beat the clock and gave the Penguins a boost they carried into the next period when Hornqvist converted a beautiful touch pass from Carl Hagelin to make it 2-0 just 90 seconds in.
The Lightning, as they’ve done all series, counterattacked beautifully.
Killorn drew Tampa Bay within a goal 13:15 into the second on a wrist shot from the left circle that went in and out of the goal so quickly play continued for a few seconds before referees pointed to the red goal light. Kucherov tied it 70 seconds later as Pittsburgh’s defense collapsed around Vladislav Namestnikov, who slid it cross ice to Kucherov for an easy one-timer.
Kunitz put the Penguins back in front, his rebound coming at the end of a sequence set up by a slick entry by Olli Maatta, who worked around two Tampa Bay players on his way to the net. The puck eventually made its way to Evgeni Malkin’s stick and Kunitz — in his usual spot just outside the crease — stuffed it home.
Maatta was back in the lineup is because Trevor Daley is out for the playoffs with a broken ankle.
Tampa Bay responded late just moments after it seemed its best chance to tie it went awry when Ryan Callahan’s shot clanked off the far post and ran along the goal line without crossing it with 3:50 left in regulation. Barely 30 seconds later, Kucherov collected a rebound off Johnson’s shot, skated behind the net and tucked it in before Fleury could scramble over in time to push it beyond regulation for the second time in five games.
And just like Game 2 — which Sidney Crosby won just 40 seconds in — it didn’t take long for the end to come suddenly. When Johnson’s shot hit the back of the net, the Lightning were on the cusp of another appearance in the Cup finals and the Penguins were on the brink of elimination for the first time in the postseason.
NOTES: Former professional wrestler Shawn Michaels (nicknamed “The Heartbreak Kid”) watched from the fourth row next to former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel. Michaels came at the behest of the Penguins, who have dubbed the highly effective line of Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel the “HBK” line. Michaels ate an “HBK” sandwich before the game and wore a black Penguins jersey adorned with the No. 156, the combined sum of Hagelin (62), Kessel (81) and Bonino’s (13) numbers. … Pittsburgh forward Beau Bennett made his postseason debut, replacing Conor Sheary on a line with Crosby and Hornqvist. … Both teams were 0 for 3 on the power play.