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5 Keys: Penguins at Blue Jackets, Game 4

Pittsburgh advances to second round with win; injury to defenseman Zach Werenski leaves big void for Columbus

by Craig Merz / Correspondent


7:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN360, TVA Sports 2, FS-O, ROOT

Pittsburgh leads best-of-7 series 3-0


COLUMBUS -- The Pittsburgh Penguins will eliminate the Columbus Blue Jackets from the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday.

Here are 5 keys for Game 4:


1. Who has Zach Werenski's back?

It's not a stretch to say the 19-year-old rookie defenseman has been the best Blue Jackets player in the series. However, his season is done after sustaining facial fractures in Game 3 after being hit by a puck.
Werenski's minutes will be taken by others, but his poise and his contributions on the offensive end won't be replicated.

"Zach was a big part of our offense," defenseman Seth Jones said. "The rest of our D has to fill that void. Our forwards have to fill that void. You can see what he's been to our offense this year."

Veteran Kyle Quincey replaces Werenski, and rookie defenseman Markus Nutivaara will make his playoff debut for Scott Harrington.


2. Pick up the check

Columbus relies on physical play and relentless forechecking to force opponents into submission, but the more-skilled Penguins have had little trouble matching and often times surpassing the Blue Jackets in those areas.

If the Penguins continue to win the battles in the areas around the net, at both ends of the ice, the series will end Tuesday. Rolling four lines and paying attention to the defensive side have allowed Pittsburgh to overcome surges by Columbus, including its three-goal blitz in the first period of Game 3.

"One of the strengths of Columbus' team is their forechecking, and our ability to beat the pressure and get out of our end zone is important," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Video: The guys preview the Penguins vs Blue Jackets


3. Remember the Flyers

The Blue Jackets need some rallying point to avoid elimination. The players say they'll draw inspiration from Werenski's gallant attempt to play after he was injured Sunday, but veteran forward Scott Hartnell is using past experience to help overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.

Hartnell was with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 when they rallied from down 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to force a Game 7 against the Boston Bruins. They won that game after trailing 3-0.

"You look back on your experiences and pass it on to these young guys," Hartnell said.

Hartnell will be a healthy scratch with rookie forward Lukas Sedlak drawing into the lineup for Game 4.


4. Stay in the moment

The Penguins have done a good job of staying on an even keel throughout the series, shrugging off all the hits the Blue Jackets have thrown their way. Now it's important for them to stay focused and wrap up the series on their first try.

"We know how good they are," Pittsburgh center Nick Bonino said. "We expect their best and we have to match it. When your back's against the wall, that's when you play your hardest, play your best. You've got to have that killer instinct to win a series. We need that tonight."


5. Have pride

The Blue Jackets don't want their most successful regular season to be marred by a sweep, especially at home.

In their previous two playoff appearances, against the Detroit Red Wings in 2009 and the Penguins in 2014, they were eliminated at Nationwide Arena.


Penguins projected lineup

Jake Guentzel -- Sidney Crosby -- Conor Sheary

Bryan Rust -- Evgeni Malkin -- Phil Kessel

Scott Wilson -- Nick Bonino -- Patric Hornqvist

Tom Kuhnhackl -- Matt Cullen -- Carter Rowney

Brian Dumoulin -- Ron Hainsey

Ian Cole -- Justin Schultz

Olli Maatta -- Trevor Daley

Marc-Andre Fleury

Tristan Jarry

Scratched: Cameron Gaunce, Josh Archibald, Mark Streit, Tom Sestito

Injured: Matt Murray (lower body), Kris Letang (upper body), Carl Hagelin (lower body), Chris Kunitz (lower body), Chad Ruhwedel (upper body)


Blue Jackets projected lineup

Boone Jenner -- Brandon Dubinsky -- Cam Atkinson

Brandon Saad -- Alexander Wennberg -- Nick Foligno

Matt Calvert -- William Karlsson -- Josh Anderson

Sam Gagner -- Lukas Sedlak -- Oliver Bjorkstrand

Gabriel Carlsson -- Seth Jones 

Jack Johnson -- David Savard

Markus Nutivaara -- Kyle Quincey 

Sergei Bobrovsky

Joonas Korpisalo

Scratched: Lauri Korpikoski, Anton Forsberg, Sonny Milano, Markus Hannikainen, Scott Hartnell

Injured: David Clarkson (back), Ryan Murray (hand), Zach Werenski (facial fractures)


Status report

Sullivan on the status of his injured players: "They are all rehabbing. There's nothing pending that I can offer you that is a significant update." … Jarry will be the backup for the fourth straight game with Murray out. … Calvert returns from a one-game suspension and will replace Milano.


Who's hot

Malkin has six points (two goals, four assists) in the series. … Guentzel has five points (four goals, one assist) in his past two games. … Crosby has five points (one goal, four assists) in his past two games. … Atkinson scored twice in Game 3. … Dubinsky had a goal and an assist in Game 3, when Foligno had two assists.

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