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5 Keys: Capitals at Penguins, Game 4

Pittsburgh's lineup will look different without Sidney Crosby; Braden Holtby must stand strong for Washington

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent


7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports

Pittsburgh leads best-of-7 series 2-1

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins enter Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round with a substantial hole to fill.

Without forward Sidney Crosby, who will not play because of a concussion, the Penguins' plan could be significantly altered. 

Meanwhile, after winning 3-2 in overtime in Game 3, the Washington Capitals will look to take advantage of that uncertainty to win a second consecutive game on the road.

Here are 5 keys for Game 4:


1. Who steps up for Penguins?

Following Game 4, Crosby will be day to day after he was cross-checked to the side of the head by Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen in the first period of Game 3. Without Crosby in the lineup Wednesday, Pittsburgh will need someone to fill the void.

The likely candidate would be forward Evgeni Malkin, who leads the NHL with 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has 154 points (66 goals, 84 assists) in 118 NHL regular-season games with Crosby injured.

"[Malkin is] one of the top players in the world," forward Phil Kessel said. "He'll come ready to play."

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Crosby exits with injury early in 1st


2. Matt Niskanen won't listen to outside noise

Niskanen is solely focused on helping Washington win Game 4. He addressed the cross-check on Crosby after the Capitals' morning skate Wednesday and said he regrets that it happened.

Niskanen is prepared to face a harsh Pittsburgh crowd but doesn't expect it to alter his performance.

"Lucky me, I'm not on social media," Niskanen said. "I just have a job to do within our team structure." 

Coach Barry Trotz also expects Niskanen's best.

"He'll be fine," Trotz said. "He's a pro."


3. Penguins lineup shakeup

Pittsburgh held an optional morning skate Wednesday, which makes it difficult to predict its lines entering Game 4. With Crosby unavailable, they should look significantly different.

Malkin did not skate, but should take over at first-line center. Who he'll play with remains uncertain.

Forward Scott Wilson would likely play after being a healthy scratch the past two games. He has two points (one goal, one assist) in six playoff games.

"We have plenty of guys that will step up," Wilson said.

Forward Carter Rowney could also be inserted into the lineup after sitting the first three games of this series.


4. Braden Holtby continuing momentum

The Capitals' goaltending situation seemed like a cause for concern when Holtby was pulled after two periods in their 6-2 loss in Game 2, when he allowed three goals on 14 shots. He calmed some of those nerves two days later by making 28 saves on 30 shots.

Washington can't afford that performance to simply be a one-off from Holtby. Even with the Penguins missing a few key pieces, they still have enough firepower to frustrate any opposing goaltender.

To tie the series, the Capitals will need Holtby to stand strong again.

"Game 4 is mental," Holtby said. "It's more us just focusing."

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Holtby makes a strong pair of saves


5. Pittsburgh's lack of power

The Penguins will require more from their power play than they received Monday if they want to take a 3-1 series lead. Pittsburgh failed to capitalize on each of its five power plays in the first two periods of Game 3.

Though those struggles, particularly from the top unit, could partially be attributed to Crosby's absence, the Penguins can't afford to let so many chances go without taking advantage. Coach Mike Sullivan won't allow them to excuse another poor effort, even without their captain.

"I don't think we're going to change our game plan just because someone is in or out of our lineup," Sullivan said.


Capitals projected lineup

Alex Ovechkin -- Nicklas Backstrom -- T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson -- Evgeny Kuznetsov -- Justin Williams

Andre Burakovsky -- Lars Eller -- Tom Wilson

Daniel Winnik -- Jay Beagle

Nate Schmidt -- John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov -- Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik -- Kevin Shattenkirk

Karl Alzner

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer

Scratched: Brett Connolly, Taylor Chorney, Paul Carey

Injured: None


Penguins projected lineup

Jake Guentzel -- Evgeni Malkin -- Phil Kessel

Carl Hagelin -- Nick Bonino -- Patric Hornqvist

Chris Kunitz -- Matt Cullen -- Bryan Rust

Scott Wilson -- Carter Rowney -- Tom Kuhnhackl

Ian Cole -- Justin Schultz

Olli Maatta -- Trevor Daley

Brian Dumoulin -- Ron Hainsey

Marc-Andre Fleury

Tristan Jarry

Scratched: Chad Ruhwedel, Josh Archibald, Mark Streit, Oskar Sundqvist

Injured: Sidney Crosby (concussion), Conor Sheary (concussion), Matt Murray (lower body), Kris Letang (upper body)


Status report

The Capitals dressed seven defensemen with Alzner returning from an upper-body injury on Monday. It remains to be seen if that's the case again in Game 4. … Sheary, who was also diagnosed with a concussion after Game 3 and is expected to miss Game 4, skated on his own before the Penguins' optional practice Tuesday. … Pittsburgh recalled Sundqvist and Archibald from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League on Tuesday. They are not expected to play in Game 4.


Who's hot

Williams had two assists Monday. He is third on the Capitals with eight playoff points (three goals, five assists). … Malkin had two points (one goal, one assist) in the final 1:53 of Game 3. He has scored at least one point in seven of eight playoff games and at least two points in six of those eight.

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