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Penguins pull together, put Capitals on brink

Defensemen thrive with extra minutes, build 3-1 lead with Game 4 win

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins won a game they weren't supposed to win Wednesday to move one win away from winning a series they aren't supposed to win.

"We like a challenge," Penguins rookie goalie Matt Murray said.

It seems like no challenge is too great for the Penguins, who defeated the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Patric Hornqvist's overtime goal in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at Consol Energy Center despite not having either member of their top defense pair in the lineup.

Kris Letang was out serving a one-game suspension, and Olli Maatta was out with an upper-body injury suspected to be related to his head.

No problem.

The Penguins have a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals, who finished with eight more wins and 16 more points than them in the regular season, a gap only closed by Pittsburgh's 14-2-0 finish to the season.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm4: Murray denies Williams on the doorstep

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

"We knew we were going to need guys to step up, not even just the D-men, but everybody in the lineup just because [Letang] eats so many minutes and he's such an impact player for us," Murray said. "I think to a man we can say everybody stepped up."

The prevailing opinion was that if the Capitals played close to as well as they did in Game 3, when they dominated yet lost 3-2, the Penguins would have no chance in Game 4 without Letang and Maatta. That seems silly now. The Penguins players and coaches kind of thought it was all along.

We should really listen to those guys sometimes.

Defenseman Trevor Daley took the bulk of the extra minutes and had a tremendous game. He scored and was plus-3 in 28:41 of ice time.

"It's the time of year, you have to take advantage of it," Daley said.

This is the same defenseman who struggled at the start of the season with the Chicago Blackhawks before getting traded to the Penguins on Dec. 14, the day Mike Sullivan coached his first game for the Penguins, a 4-1 loss to the Capitals.

"It's funny how this game works," Daley said. "You stick with it and good things happen."

Daley's defense partner, Brian Dumoulin, had two assists in 22:10 of ice time. Justin Schultz, playing for the first time since Game 1 of the first round against the New York Rangers, was solid in his 17:56. So were Ben Lovejoy (17:06) and Ian Cole (17:41). Derrick Pouliot (17:12) had some struggles, but for the most part was fine.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm4: Daley's shot deflects off Alzner and in

The key for them all was how they limited Washington's Grade A chances and helped feed the Pittsburgh rush and possession game. Cole even got in on a 2-on-1 with forward Bryan Rust.

"The thing the whole D-corps was able to do was do what they do well," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "To a man they got in shot lanes when they needed to. They joined the play when they needed to. There were great looks from the point from a lot of them. I don't see [Cole] join on a 2-on-1 too often, but he did it because it was there. I think they just made the right plays.

"No one tried to be [Letang]; they just tried to play their game and that was huge for us."

Crosby played his game and wound up with his first point of the series, an assist on Daley's goal at 9:16 of the first period. It was a perfect example of the Penguins' night: Every skater on the ice played a role.

Pouliot started the breakout and got it up to left wing Conor Sheary, who passed it back to Crosby coming through the neutral zone with speed. Crosby found Hornqvist, who found Daley for a shot that hit Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner and found its way through goalie Braden Holtby.

"Nobody backed down," Murray said. "Nobody sat back."

Fourth-line center Matt Cullen scored and had another shot ring off the crossbar. He pretty much outplayed every center in the Capitals lineup, a tall order considering two of them are Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Cullen has been exceptional for the Penguins all season. He had 16 goals and 32 points in the regular season, playing all 82 games. He has five points, including three goals, in nine Stanley Cup Playoff games. He's 39 years old.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm4: Cullen draws iron on two-on-one break

"He's at a stage in his career where he's just enjoying and embracing this challenge we have and this journey we've been on," Sullivan said. "I thought tonight he was one of our best players."

Murray has been too since stepping in as the starting goalie in Game 3 against the Rangers. He fought the puck a bit but finished with 34 saves, including 14 in a row after the Capitals tied the game 2-2 on John Carlson's goal at 16:19 of the second period.

Murray's save percentage in the past three games, all wins, is .954 (five goals on 109 shots).

"It's a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, a lot of pressure, but I think he thrives under it," Crosby said.

Not to be outdone is Hornqvist, who scored his first Stanley Cup Playoff overtime goal and had an assist on Daley's goal. He's the new version of former Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom in that he does everything most other guys don't want to do, like go to the net, push and shove, scratch, claw and battle for every inch of ice so that maybe, just maybe, he'll be rewarded.

"It's hard not to love this guy," Sullivan said. "To see him rewarded in overtime is a thrill."

Sullivan could have said the same about anyone else in his lineup and it wouldn't have been wrong. They all contributed and made up for who was missing to win a game they weren't supposed to win, to move closer to eliminating a team they aren't supposed to eliminate.

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