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Daley shoulders load on defense in Letang's absence

Plays team-high 28:41, scores Pittsburgh's first goal in Game 4 win

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley did his best Kris Letang impression Wednesday.

With Letang, their best defenseman, serving a one-game suspension, the Penguins realized they would have to use a collaborative effort to fill that void in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Washington Capitals. Each of Pittsburgh's six defensemen saw increased minutes, but Daley shouldered a particularly heavy load.

Daley played 28:41 in 35 shifts, numbers Letang customarily puts up but no other Penguins defenseman approaches, to help Pittsburgh to a 3-2 overtime win in Game 4. He averaged 22:26 through Pittsburgh's first eight games in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Letang, who was suspended for a high hit on Capitals forward Marcus Johansson in Game 3, will return for Game 5 at Verizon Center on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 3-1.

The volume of Daley's minutes was Letang-like, as was his productivity.

None of it surprised Daley.

"It was pretty obvious," the 32-year-old said. "I've been around for a little bit now, so I kind of knew what the situation was going to be like and it's the time of year where you have to take advantage. Every play, every game matters so much."

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

Daley's impressive night began with his first playoff goal with Pittsburgh and the fifth of his NHL career. After the Capitals took a 1-0 lead on Jay Beagle's goal 2:58 into the first period, Daley answered when Washington was seemingly riding a wave of momentum with a 6-3 shot advantage.

With Sidney Crosby battling Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen near the top of the crease, Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist dropped a pass to Daley. Goalie Braden Holtby lost track of the play and slightly kicked off to his right, allowing Daley to sneak a shot past his left pad at 9:16.

When the Chicago Blackhawks traded Daley to Pittsburgh for defenseman Rob Scuderi on Dec. 14, Daley said he didn't believe he would be in his current position.

"It's funny how this game works; you stick with it and good things happen," Daley said. "I'm just grateful for the opportunity here. I'm in a good place here and I'm enjoying this with a great group of guys. We're enjoying this. We just play. That's been our motto since I got here."

Daley wasn't alone. Brian Dumoulin chipped in two assists during his 22:10 of ice time. Pittsburgh's other four defensemen, Justin Schultz, Derrick Pouliot, Ian Cole and Ben Lovejoy, each logged more than 17 minutes.

"I thought they were terrific. The whole group of them," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "[Letang] is a tough guy to replace. He's an elite player, so a lot of guys had to step up and play more minutes, play more significant roles. I though the group of them did a tremendous job."

Since Game 3, the Penguins repeatedly said there was no replacing Letang, their defensive leader, who has averaged 29:14 in eight playoff games. They will have Letang back on Saturday, but for one game, Daley was a more-than-adequate substitute.

"I think, first and foremost, [Daley] play unbelievably," Cole said. "He had 20 minutes through two periods. So yeah, he was unbelievable. But I think everyone took a chunk of that. Nobody's going to be able to play 35 [minutes] and do it like [Letang] does it, but I think everyone contributed and took a couple extra minutes, and did it very well."

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