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5 Keys: Capitals at Penguins, Game 4

Pittsburgh has to adjust without Letang; Washington wants more traffic at the net

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals play Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 2-1.

Here are five keys for Game 4:


With Penguins defenseman Kris Letang suspended for Game 4 because of his hit on Capitals forward Marcus Johansson in Game 3 and defenseman Olli Maatta out because of an upper-body injury, the Penguins will be without two of their top four defensemen. Derrick Pouliot made his Stanley Cup Playoff debut in place of Maatta in Game 2. It appears Justin Schultz, who played in one previous playoff game, will play for Letang.

Replacing Letang will be difficult, as evidenced by the Penguins' 2-8-1 record without him this season.

Letang is the Penguins' best defenseman, plays in all situations and logs heavy minutes, averaging 32:27 in the first three games of the series. The Penguins had trouble with the Capitals' forecheck and physical play with Letang in the lineup in Game 3. How they handle it without him in Game 4 will be pivotal.

"It's certainly tough to replace a guy that has that much of an influence on our team," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said, "but we believe we have depth and we'll spread his minutes amongst the group and we'll try to put the guys in situations where they can play to their strengths. It has to be a committee approach."


Facing the Penguins without Letang and Maatta is a big opportunity for the Capitals to turn the series back in their favor. Penguins rookie goaltender Matt Murray has looked unflappable, however, in stopping 70 of 73 shots in winning the past two games.

The Capitals thought they started to get to Murray in the third period of Game 3 when they scored two goals, and believe they can do more to make life difficult for him with traffic in front.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Williams scores after Ovi hits post

"We feel like our luck is going to turn and you create your own luck in this game," Capitals left wing Jason Chimera said. "We felt [Monday] towards the end of the game our luck started to turn a bit. We started getting some bounces. [Justin Williams] got a bounce at the side of the net [on the Capitals' second goal], so hopefully it keeps going like that."


The Penguins also have an opportunity to take advantage of the Capitals being shorthanded on defense with Brooks Orpik serving the second game of his three-game suspension for his hit on Maatta in Game 2. Pittsburgh was able to do that some in Game 3, when a turnover by Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt led to Carl Hagelin's second-period goal that turned out to be the game-winner. The Penguins need to do more to make the Capitals defensemen work in their end, which also would take pressure off their defensemen.

"We've got to be harder on their [defensemen] like we were in the first two games," Hagelin said. "When we got in and we spent a lot of time in their zone, you could see it was hard for them to handle us. It almost looked like we were backing off a bit too much [in Game 3]. We didn't go the way we can, and that's when we play our best."


The Capitals have been chasing for much of the past two games. The Penguins scored first in both of them and were able to sit back some and help Murray protect the lead. Washington is 4-0 when scoring first in the playoffs and Pittsburgh is 4-1, so each has shown an ability to play well when ahead.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Hornqvist tips opening goal by Holtby


The Penguins have Sidney Crosby on their first line and Evgeni Malkin on their second line, but their third line of Hagelin (two goals, two assists), Nick Bonino (one goal, three assists) and Phil Kessel (two assists) has been their best in the series, combining for 10 points. The Capitals have been happy with how their top line, centered by Nicklas Backstrom, has fared against Crosby's line, and, for the most part, how their fourth line, centered by Jay Beagle, has done against Malkin's line. They haven't found an answer for Bonino's line, which has given them trouble with their speed on the counterattack and pressure on the forecheck.

"They're sort of the forgotten line a little bit because there is so much focus on Crosby and Malkin as sort of the 1 and 1A [lines]," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "It's a tough matchup all the time."

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