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Inside Scoop: Belief, creating offense and more

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

Thoughts, musings and observations from Monday as the Pens face elimination in Game 4 on Tuesday against the New York Islanders…

* The Pens find themselves in the very precarious position of trailing 3-0 in their First Round series against the New York Islanders. They will face elimination in Game 4 on Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena. 

Despite the ridiculous odds against them, the team still expressed a lot of confidence in its ability to claw back. 

Brian Dumoulin: "We still have belief."

Head coach Mike Sullivan: "I believe in the group that we have. These guys are capable of great things."

Read more on the Pens' situation and how they're handling it in Michelle Crechiolo's story here

* This series featured a clash between the Pens' dynamic offense and the Islanders' stifling defense. 

Pittsburgh has worldly talents in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang. New York boasted the NHL's top defense after allowing the fewest goals of any team on the year. 

Three games into the series it's clear that the Islanders' defense has won the match thus far, holding Pittsburgh to five goals. New York has done an excellent job by keeping players above the puck, thus not allowing many odd-man rushes or giving the Pens space to unleash their skill. 

Despite that fact, the Pens aren't going to morph their identity overnight. 

"I think our identity hasn't changed over the years, we try to play fast and get the puck up quick. Obviously we haven't done that well enough these first three games," defenseman Justin Schultz said. "That's what we're going to try to keep doing here because that's when we play our best and I'm looking forward to the next game."

Part of the issue for the Pens is that in this series they've been chasing offense and trying to force plays when outnumbered. That has led to turnovers and an Islanders' counterattack. 

"We can't become a high-risk team in the process trying to score so much," Sullivan said. "I think that was a part of the message today, making sure we stay within ourselves and we take what the game gives us. 

"When you look at the way the game was played the last game, some of the best chances the Islanders got was a result of some of the decisions we made either with the puck or without the puck trying to score. I think we've got to do a better job there of just taking what the game gives us."

A lot of talk has been made about the neutral zone. But the Islanders aren't a trapping team that clogs up the neutral zone. What they do instead is to always have players above the puck. So as an offense you're skating into a wall of bodies. 

"When they have numbers back we've got to embrace that challenge and we've got to create offense in different ways," Sullivan said. "So that's been the challenge and that'll continue to be the challenge moving forward."

It's not like the Pens haven't generated scoring chances. They have 103 shots in three games. 

The problem for the Pens is that when they have had those opportunities the Islanders' 6-foot-4 goaltender Robin Lehner has been equal to the task. The Swedish tender has stopped 98 of those 103 shots. 

"He's a big body and takes up a lot of net, but (it's about) finding those second and third opportunities," said Crosby, who is still looking for his first point of the series. "If he sees it he's most likely going to save it, so just finding a way to get to rebounds and fighting through that tough area of the net to generate those second and third opportunities."

* After the Pens' 4-1 loss on Sunday afternoon, Sullivan stayed late into the day at PPG Paints Arena breaking down film of the game. He and the coaching staff arrived at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex early on Monday morning to prep the team for a video session for Tuesday's Game 4. 

"We did have a meeting, we did discuss some things and I think it was productive," Sullivan said. 

The message was indeed received by the team. 

"As a group we talked about what we need to do to come in here mentally and physically to win a game tomorrow and that's all we can control," Crosby said. "I think that we have to trust what's gotten you to this point and what our strengths are and how we got here, but also learn from the games and we'll look to do that tomorrow."

* The Pens had a practice scheduled for noon at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. But the team canceled it and held a video session and meeting instead. 

"It's something we talked about and planned out based on the schedule before the series even started," Sullivan said. "We've skated eight days in a row now I believe. We've also been in situations during the course of the regular season, the month of March is one in particular, where we played a lot of games every other day like we are now, and our team responded really well when we didn't skate the day before and had morning skate and played."

* A few members of the team were asked by the Post-Gazette's Jason Mackey about how they would spend the rest of their day. Most said they would relax and maybe watch some of the other playoff games tonight. Schultz said he would avoid social media and catch up on The Masters post-round coverage. 

Sullivan had perhaps the most creative answer. 

He said: "Maybe I'll catch a rerun of Game of Thrones and maybe go for a walk with my dogs, and be ready for the next game tomorrow."

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