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Conference Final

Sidney Crosby steps up for Penguins in Game 4 win against Senators

Pittsburgh captain has goal, assist to help even Eastern Final

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

OTTAWA -- After struggling offensively through the first three games of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators, the Pittsburgh Penguins knew they needed to do something different.


[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Senators series coverage | Gulitti: Murray leads Penguins to Game 4 win]


Penguins coach Mike Sullivan shuffled his line combinations and even switched starting goaltenders. But perhaps the biggest difference in their 3-2 win in Game 4 on Friday was the return of center Sidney Crosby as a dominant offensive player with a goal and an assist.

Crosby, the Penguins captain, set up defenseman Olli Maatta's goal that opened the scoring with 46 seconds remaining in the first period. He then scored a power-play goal that extended Pittsburgh's lead to 2-0 at 7:41 of the second.

It was Crosby's first multipoint game since he sustained a concussion on defenseman Matt Niskanen's cross-check in Game 3 of the second round against the Washington Capitals. He had consecutive multipoint games in the first two games of that series.

"We need a big goal and he finds a way on the power play to get it," said Penguins forward Chris Kunitz, who is Crosby's linemate. "He gets on the board early finding Olli on the far side of the ice with his vision. Any time your leaders step up like that, it really trickles down."

Video: PIT@OTT, Gm4: Crosby slides home power-play goal

After a poor start cost them in a 5-1 loss in Game 3 on Wednesday, the Penguins needed a win in Game 4 and played with desperation. Goalie Matt Murray, the surprise starter after Marc-Andre Fleury started the first 15 games of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, helped them find their footing with some big early saves against Senators forwards Viktor Stalberg and Derick Brassard.

The Penguins started to assert themselves offensively after that and finally were rewarded after scoring one goal in each of the first three games of the series.

The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2 with Game 5 in Pittsburgh on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"As I've said all along here, this group has a knack for responding the right way to any of the adversities or the challenges that this team has been faced with," Sullivan said. "I think it always starts with our leadership. It starts with our captain. I think he leads by example, and I thought he had one of his best games tonight, Sid."

Seeking more offense, Sullivan switched up his line combinations, moving Kunitz up from the second line to play right wing on the first line with Jake Guentzel and Crosby. Scott Wilson moved up to take Kunitz's place at left wing on the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, and Carter Rowney slotted into Wilson's former spot at right wing on the third line with Conor Sheary and Nick Bonino.

After playing 11 forwards and seven defensemen in Game 3, the Penguins went back to the more traditional 12 forwards and six defensemen. Josh Archibald made his NHL postseason debut, playing right wing on the fourth line with Carl Hagelin and center Matt Cullen.

Video: PIT@OTT, Gm4: Maatta buries first playoff goal

"We still had some opportunities we could have put in, but I think as a whole each line generated some good chances and played the right way," Crosby said. "We were physical, we were on our toes a bit more and got the result we wanted."

Everything started with Crosby, who was held without a point in the first two games of the series before breaking through for a power-play goal in the third period of Game 3. After totaling six shots on goal in the first three games against Ottawa, he had a game-high five in Game 4.

"He was shooting puck early," Kunitz said. "Any time he had it on his stick, he was flying with it. Right from the start when he's got it going, you want to give him the puck wherever he is and let him do his thing."

Crosby's cross-ice pass set up Maatta for a shot from the left circle that beat goaltender Craig Anderson to the short side and got the Penguins a lead for the second time in the series. On his power-play goal, Crosby waited patiently at the right post for Guentzel to feed him from the left circle.

Anderson made a left pad save on Crosby's initial shot, but the rebound caromed back to him off Stalberg and he was able to slip it inside the right post.

"I just tried to be big and hope you can keep it alive on the side of the net," Crosby said. "I got a lucky break there, but it was nice to see it go in."

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