Thursday, May 04, 2017
Penguins continuing on tradition of resiliency against Capitals
Kevin Allen , USA TODAY Sports
May 4, 2017
Pittsburgh Penguins' Patric Hornqvist (72) gets the puck past Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) for a goal during the first period of Game 4 in an NHL Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinal hockey game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (Gene Puskar/AP)
PITTSBURGH — When you think of Pittsburgh Penguins tradition, you think showtime offense.
Mario Lemieux. Jaromir Jagr. Ron Francis. Paul Coffey. Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins have a history of magical scorers.
But the tradition that no one discusses, but everyone in the organization understands, is that the Penguins have historically found ways to overcome injuries. It’s been part of the Penguins’ culture for almost 30 years, dating to the days when Lemieux was in and out of the lineup with a variety of medical issues.
That tradition of resiliency helped the Penguins win a Stanley Cup last June and was on display again Wednesday when they overcame the absence of injured captain Crosby to down the Washington Capitals 3-2 and move within one win of reaching the Eastern Conference Final.
“These guys are willing to block shots, defend hard, get into people’s bodies,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “That’s what jumps out to me with our group right now — their willingness and commitment just to compete, defend, and do what takes.”
When Crosby was ruled out of Game 4 because of a concussion suffered in Game 3, the presumption was Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin would carry Crosby's load.
But Malkin wasn’t the story in this game. The story was Marc-Andre Fleury making 36 saves and the Penguins blocking 24 shots. Fourteen different Penguins blocked a shot on a night when the Pittsburgh team could only muster 18 shots on Washington's net.
“(Malkin) is an unbelievable hockey player. He commands so much attention when he has the puck,” Pittsburgh defenseman Ian Cole said. “But hockey isn’t like basketball where you can say, ‘go play the entire game.’ It’s a team game, and it’s very much reliant on guys to step up.”
The Penguins are now playing without the world’s best player in Crosby, top defenseman Kris Letang, No. 1 goalie Matt Murray and 23-goal scorer Conor Sheary.
“It was a gutsy, gritty, scrappy game for our group,” Sullivan said.
Despite having limited offensive zone time, the Penguins scored on a breakaway by Patric Hornqvist and an ugly goal credited to Jake Guentzel, whose centering feed was deflected into the net by Washington defenseman Dmitry Orlov. The game-winning goal came on a blistering shot from the point by Pittsburgh defenseman Justin Schultz on the power play.
The Penguins were the highest-scoring NHL team in the regular season, but that’s not how they found success in Game 4
“We would like to spend more time in the offensive zone, and have the puck more than we did, but I give our players credit because of their commitment to defending,” Sullivan said. “We’re paying a price.”
On a night when the Penguins seemed to continually make the right plays at opportune times, the Capitals struggled with consistency. They took too many penalties, particularly in the offensive zone.
Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said he didn’t like the way he played.
“Our top guys weren’t as good as they needed to be,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. “I didn’t think they stepped up.”
Trotz said what his team now needs is to enter Saturday’s Game 5 in Washington with some desperation. They need to match the resiliency the Penguins showed in Game 4.
“If we don’t have the urgency we need in that game, then we don’t earn the right to keep playing, plain and simple,” Trotz said.
But the Penguins believe they can play better — much better — than they did in Game 4.
“We have another level to get to as a team,” Cole said. “They still had a lot of shots and chances. We can get that down.”
But Cole said the Penguins’ level of desperation “is through the roof.” It's winning strategy, particularly when it's unknown when Crosby or Sheary might return to their lineup.
“What the coaching staff admires about our team is its ability to find ways of winning different ways,” Sullivan said. “I think it says something about the character of our group and the leadership in our dressing room.”