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Defeating Capitals in Game 4 Penguins' best revenge

Players rally in support of injured captain Sidney Crosby, put Washington on brink of elimination

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- Marc-Andre Fleury's goalie mask is decorated as an homage to his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates past and present. On the back it has two columns of names. On top of the left column it has 'Nisky' handwritten in silver.

It was covered with tape Wednesday.

"What?" Fleury said with a laugh when a reporter asked about it. "Who did that? I don't know. I don't have much to say. You guys are good, though. Good spies."

Fleury didn't have to say anything. The tape said it all.

 

[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Penguins series coverage | Alex Ovechkin says he has 'to play much better' for Capitals]

 

'Nisky' was for defenseman Matt Niskanen, who played for the Penguins from the end of the 2010-11 season through 2013-14 before signing as a free agent with the Washington Capitals. He cross-checked Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and gave him a concussion in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on Monday.

"I think the best way to make him pay is winning, and we did," Fleury said.

The Penguins defeated the Capitals 3-2 in Game 4 at PPG Paints Arena and lead the best-of-7 series 3-1. One more win and they will erase Niskanen and the Capitals from the second round for the second straight season in which the Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy.

Game 5 is at Verizon Center on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

Losing Crosby could have been devastating. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last season and is a Hart Trophy finalist this season. He was a catalyst for their first two wins in this series, scoring twice in Game 1, setting up two goals in Game 2.

Crosby's concussion followed injuries to forward Conor Sheary (concussion), defenseman Kris Letang (neck) and goaltender Matt Murray (lower body).

But the Penguins kept their emotions under control and won Game 4 much the same way they won Games 1 and 2. Though they were dominated in terms of shots on goal (38-18) and shot attempts (72-39), they got 36 saves from Fleury and blocked 24 shots. They went 4-on-4 on the penalty kill. After a 2-0 lead evaporated, they cashed in with a power-play goal.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm4: Fleury extends pad to deny Eller

"It was a gutsy, gritty, scrappy game for our group," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Penguins forward Chris Kunitz added another adjective.

"Throw that 'heart' word out there," he said. "Everybody dug down a little bit deeper. It seemed like we got the timely save when we needed it, but we also got guys in the lanes. We had big blocked shots. We had sticks deflecting pucks or tying guys up. Whatever it took to get the win. It wasn't pretty but we found a way to get it done."

Kunitz was upset in the aftermath of Game 3, saying he liked Niskanen as a person but thought the cross-check on Crosby was malicious. (Niskanen said it was not intentional).

Little more than a minute into Game 4, Kunitz had a chance for revenge. The adrenaline surely pumping, the crowd loudly booing as Niskanen had the puck in front of the Washington bench, Kunitz had Niskanen lined up for a hit. 

Niskanen moved the puck to Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm4: Schultz drills PPG past Holtby

Kunitz could have crushed Niskanen but the hit would have been late and illegal. At the last instant Kunitz veered away, did not make contact with Niskanen and went to the bench for a change.

"Obviously we want to be physical," Kunitz said. "We want to chip their body. We want to get in on the forecheck. But we have to be disciplined. We know their power play's unbelievable and it's tough to shut them down time after time after time. If you take those undisciplined penalties anything can happen."

The Penguins were more disciplined than the Capitals, who took six penalties in the offensive zone, and five of them led to Pittsburgh power plays.

Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz scored the winning goal on the power play 11:24 into the second period after Capitals defenseman John Carlson was called for roughing Penguins forward Scott Wilson.

And on a night in which the Penguins were missing some of their best players, the Capitals best players didn't take advantage. If they can't beat the Penguins under these circumstances, when can they beat them?

"We had an opportunity to play well," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "I didn't think our top guys really stepped up today, which was very unfortunate for us. … The Pittsburgh Penguins have played without a number of players all year, and you were going to get their best game, and you needed our best game to beat them. And we know that. They stepped up."

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm4: Fleury sprawls to rob Wilson with pad

All of them. All of them doing what they could to win without their captain.

"It means everything," Kunitz said. "He's our leader. He's a guy that is the face of the organization. When a guy like that goes down, everybody wants to do it for him, because he obviously puts it on the line every single night for us and usually carries us to the victory the way he plays. So if we can get out there and try to win one for Sid, that's how we did it tonight."

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