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Penguins backup defensemen playing leading roles in playoffs

With injuries to Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Pittsburgh counting on depth in conference final against Senators

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The names are not the ones the Pittsburgh Penguins anticipated populating their defense with at the start of the season. There is no Kris Letang. There is no Trevor Daley. Instead, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Washington Capitals, the Penguins used Brian Dumoulin and Ron Hainsey, Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz, Ian Cole and Chad Ruhwedel.

It is a situation to strain any team's depth. And it will continue to do so when the Penguins play Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

It's something the Senators have seen before, and have exploited. By the middle of the first round against the Boston Bruins, the Senators were playing against non-regulars, with Boston having lost defensemen Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, Adam McQuaid and Colin Miller to injury.

 

[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Senators series coverage]

 

It's not quite that extensive in Pittsburgh, but Letang is out for the rest of the season after neck surgery and Daley remains day to day with a lower-body injury. Those are two major losses, perhaps the top two defensemen for the Penguins.

"I think our depth is our strength. We have a lot of good players," Maatta said. "We've been dealing with injuries all this season, last season, and we know there's always got to be the next guy who's going to step up. When somebody goes down, obviously it's unfortunate, but it's part of the game. You've just got to have those other guys step up."

But that becomes more difficult the further the Stanley Cup Playoffs progress.

"We think all of these guys are capable of helping us win games," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said, noting the ability to shuffle the pairs as well. "Certainly [Letang and Daley] are difficult guys to replace. I think that I'm stating the obvious when I say that.

"But certainly we believe as a group we have a capable group back there that can step in and play a solid game for us, and that can help us continue to play and establish the type of game that we want to play that gives us the best chance to win games. And that's our expectation, I think that's the message that we send to our group."

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That they're good enough. That they're capable. That even though they're not exactly the names they planned on writing into their lineup, the Penguins can - and should - win with those players.

Although they struggled in their first game without Daley, a 5-2 loss to the Capitals in Game 6, the way they were able to shut down Washington in a 2-0 win in Game 7 only promotes that feeling. They know what they can do, and they have done it. They have figured out - they hope - how to harness what they have and how to make it work.

"We're a confident group," Maatta said. "We know we have the players here to get the job done. I think that's the biggest thing. We know how good we are. But at the same time, we know that we've got to play the game the right way to accomplish anything."

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