Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins scores a goal on Craig Anderson #41 of the Ottawa Senators during the second period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Canadian Tire Centre on May 23, 2017 in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)
The Penguins had so many chances to clinch this Eastern Conference final, to return home to play Nashville and begin their bid to become the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champions in almost two decades.
So many chances and so many misses.
“I thought we played a real good game,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We dominated zone time. We had lots of chances. We didn't score. The puck didn't go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way then I believe we'll get the result.”
The Penguins outplayed the Ottawa Senators for the better part of two periods thanks to a 15-shot edge and a magnificent goal by Evgeni Malkin that took the air out of Canadian Tire Centre. But they didn't get the result.
At least, not the one they wanted.
Bobby Ryan pumped up that flat with a one-timer from the left circle over the outstretched stick of defenseman Olli Maatta, and it was the start of a sensational comeback by the Senators in a 2-1 victory in Game 6 on Tuesday night.
This was supposed to be the end of the Senators, who instead took heed in the words of Guy Boucher: “I think there's two types of people: People that see difficulties in opportunities and people that see opportunities in difficulties.”
Where we saw this as an elimination game, Boucher saw it as a great opportunity for Ottawa to push the Penguins to a deciding seventh game just as his Tampa Bay Lightning did to them in the first round of the 2011 playoffs.
“I think we're in that position right now where it's a great day for our group to show what we got in front of our fans,” Boucher said beforehand, “and I think our fans have seen what this team has done all year through adversity and how many times we've bounced back and how many times the guys have showed, not just their individual character, but I think the team character.”
The Penguins found difficult in those opportunities, especially with the odds against them.
The Senators got a big break when a Trevor Daley goal was disallowed after a coach's challenge. After video review, it was determined that Daley had interfered with goalie Craig Anderson. That wiped out the Penguins' chance at a lead at 3 minutes, 4 seconds of the second, but Malkin made it 1-0 at 4:51, slipping a backhand behind Anderson.
The Penguins drew two penalties in a span of 1:03, and Ryan took advantage of a five-on-three to tie the game at 1-1 at 13:15. That was the score to start the third, and the Penguins suddenly were in a tight game despite outshooting the Senators, 34-19, including 23-10 in the second.
Problem was, the puck wasn't finding the net. The Penguins couldn't put another past Anderson, who was pulled in Game 5 after allowing four first-period goals in a 7-0 loss.
“We did have some good chances,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of outshooting the Senators, 46-30. “This is the time of the year where you've got to put them, but the chances were there.”
The Penguins missed theirs, but Mike Hoffman took advantage of a three-on-two chase and hit his one-timer for the winner at 1:34 of the third.
It marked the third consecutive series the Penguins failed to win with a chance to close out, dropping Sullivan's record to 6-6 in games with a chance to clinch, including 2-4 on the road.
The Penguins lost Game 4 at Columbus, Games 5 and 6 against Washington and now Game 6 at Ottawa. Both previous times, the Penguins persevered to clinch the series and advance.
They're down to one more chance, when they host the Senators in Game 7 on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena. It's a great opportunity begging for a great moment.