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Penguins' defense overcomes another Orpik injury

Thursday, 05.08.2014 / 12:15 AM
Mike G. Morreale  - NHL.com Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Forced to play with five defensemen when Brooks Orpik sustained an injury in the first period did very little to derail the Pittsburgh Penguins from exhibiting one of their better defensive efforts of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Penguins limited the New York Rangers to a season-low 15 shots and scored a shorthanded goal to add salt to the wound of a struggling power play en route to 4-2 victory in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.

It was a battle of attrition and teamwork, particularly over the final 40 minutes when the Penguins allowed nine shots against goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

The win gives the Penguins a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series that resumes Friday with Game 5 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh (7 p.m. ET; CBC, RDS, NBCSN).

Orpik, who was making his first appearance for the Penguins in six games after sitting out with an undisclosed injury, left the game Wednesday late in the first after he collided with Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello in the defensive zone. Penguins coach Dan Blysma confirmed after the game that the injury was separate from the one sustained in the team's first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With Orpik out, the burden shifted to the five remaining defensemen and those forwards to join forces and collectively frustrate the Rangers.

"Our defense had to do an unbelievable job because the Rangers were coming at us with a lot more speed," Bylsma said. "I think those five guys back there did a superb job and played a lot of minutes, but were still able to skate and be effective on the penalty kill. I can't say enough about our defensemen after so many minutes."

Paul Martin led the way with 30:05 of ice time and his defense partner, Kris Letang, followed with a personal playoff high of 27:56; each took 34 shifts. Rob Scuderi (20:05), Matt Niskanen (19:24) and Olli Maatta (17:15) were also key along the blue line.

"For guys like Paul [Martin] and Kris [Letang], they probably ended up playing a little bit too much," Niskanen said. "They play a lot already, but for the rest of us, we were really into the game. You play a little bit more and you just hope to get into kind of a rhythm and not think about it too much. You just go. Sometimes you play better when you're playing more like that."

Martin, who delivered three hits and blocked one shot as well, didn't appear too fatigued while answering reporters at his locker after the game.

"You realize that you will be playing a lot [when Orpik was injured], so you know you need shorter shifts. You must be smart with the puck, must make quick plays and must try and spend as less time in your zone as possible," Martin said. "I think our forwards helped us out a lot and froze the puck a couple times to give us a rest. We did a good job balancing the defense after Brooks went down."

The previous playoff low in shots allowed by the Penguins prior to Wednesday was 20 against the Blue Jackets in a Game 3 first-round victory on April 21.

"It was definitely one of the best defensive efforts for us in the playoffs," Niskanen said. "To only give up 15 shots, that's pretty good team defense and a lot of guys that needed to be committed to doing it. We gave up some good looks on a couple of occasions. I can't think of all of them off the top of my head, but overall, we were pretty good defensively."

The Penguins denied the Rangers on two power-play opportunities for the game; each was assessed with Orpik sidelined. The Rangers are now 0-for-15 in the series and haven't scored a power-play goal in 36 straight chances dating back to Game 2 of their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.

"All five D came together and it was really easy to play with the guys that were out there," Maatta said. "We talked a lot since your partners aren't the same every shift. You don't want join the rush if it's not there in order to save energy. You have to play smart."

The Penguins rank sixth among the eight remaining playoff teams with an 83.3-percent penalty kill efficiency. The team has killed 35-of-42 opposing power-plays and is tied with Columbus for the League lead in the postseason with three shorthanded goals.

Brandon Sutter scored for his first career shorthanded goal in the playoffs with 1:33 remaining in the second period to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead in Game 4.

"Right now our biggest thing is probably our defensive zone play," Sutter said. "We didn't like the way it last [in Game 3 on Monday], so to play like we did in our own end [in Game 4] was crucial. That was the difference and that is the effort we need going forward."

Fleury, made 13 saves in his 52nd playoff victory, was extremely proud of the defensive effort. The Penguins blocked 13 shots and won 63 percent on faceoffs.

"The Ds have been very solid through all of the playoffs," Fleury said. "They have been helping me out a lot. The forwards too, give them some credit for coming back, helping out, back checking hard and playing in their zone."

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