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Letang, Dumoulin injured for Penguins in loss to Flyers at Stadium Series

Pittsburgh's defense sustains huge blow in heated playoff race

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- The Pittsburgh Penguins' road to the Stanley Cup Playoffs got bumpier on a soggy Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

Not only did they fall out of a playoff position, they could be without three of their top four defensemen for the foreseeable future.

The Penguins lost Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin, their top defense pair, to injuries on the same play in the first period before blowing a two-goal lead with less than four minutes remaining in the third in a 4-3 overtime loss against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.

 

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Dumoulin has a concussion and is out after getting hit high by Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds with 3:37 remaining in the first period, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. Letang, who was injured after coming to Dumoulin's defense, is being evaluated for an upper-body injury.

Olli Maatta, a second-pair defenseman, is already on injured reserve and out indefinitely with an upper-body injury. He has missed six straight games.

"It's tough when you lose your top pair for the majority of the hockey game," Sullivan said.

They almost won anyway.

Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk scored a 6-on-4 with the goalie pulled power-play goal at 16:56 of the third period to make it 3-2, and Jakub Voracek tied the game at 3-3 with a 6-on-5 goal at 19:40.

Claude Giroux scored 1:59 into overtime to win it for Philadelphia.

"This is kind of a playoff feel I think from here on in for us and sometimes things like this happen," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "You move on and you become that much more desperate and urgent."

The injuries and blowing the chance to earn the second point here couldn't come at a worse time for the Penguins. The Carolina Hurricanes moved ahead of Pittsburgh for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference with a 3-0 win against the Dallas Stars. The Penguins would have gotten back in with a win of any kind against the Flyers.

Instead, Carolina has the spot now by virtue of the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker (ROW), 32-31. Each team has 72 points in 61 games.

The Columbus Blue Jackets lead the Hurricanes and Penguins in the race for third place in the Metropolitan Division by one point in one fewer game. The Montreal Canadiens also have 73 points in 62 games and hold the first wild card.

Video: PIT@PHI: Sullivan on injuries in OT loss to Flyers

And now the Penguins, a team that has been struggling to find consistency for seven weeks, going 9-10-2 since Jan. 6, potentially have to find a way to at least keep pace in the race without arguably their three best defensemen in Letang, Dumoulin and Maatta.

"That's possibly what we're going to be faced with and there's not going to be any teams feeling sorry for us," Crosby said, "so we've got to find a way to overcome that."

If there is a silver lining in the loss Saturday, it's that the four defensemen who finished the game, Jack Johnson, Chad Ruhwedel, Justin Schultz and Marcus Pettersson, played well enough to give Sullivan and the Penguins some type of indication that they can handle a bigger load.

Yes, the Penguins couldn't hold the lead, and maybe that had something to do with fatigue among those four defensemen, an excuse nobody with the Penguins would touch. But the fact is Johnson, Ruhwedel, Schultz and Pettersson were a big reason for why the Penguins were even in position to win the game with less than four minutes remaining.

Johnson played a season-high 31:08, nearly 12 minutes more than his average ice time per game this season (19:15). Schultz scored a goal and played 30:02 in what was his fifth game since returning to the lineup after missing 53 games with a leg injury.

Ruhwedel played 24:38; nearly eight minutes more than his average ice time per game (16:56). Pettersson played 22:41, 10 seconds shy of six minutes more than his average (16:51).

"They battled their [butt] off like they always do," Penguins goalie Matt Murray said. "That's not easy playing with four D, especially in a situation like that. Unbelievable job by all of them. It's unfortunate we couldn't get the second point."

What the Penguins have to figure out now is who joins them in the absence of Letang and Dumoulin, for however long that might be.

Juuso Riikola, who has four points (two goals, two assists) in 34 games this season, is the obvious choice to go in when the Penguins play their next biggest game of the season against the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday.

If Dumoulin and Letang can't go, the Penguins will either have to call-up another defenseman from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League or potentially acquire one before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday at 3 p.m. ET.

"It's tough," Sullivan said. "When you lose your top pair defense, that's not easy, that's a tough challenge. But we have capable guys. It's going to give other guys opportunities. Hopefully we won't lose either one of them for any length of time, but in the meantime we're going to put guys in that we know are capable of helping us win."

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