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Maatta stepping up for Pens

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens lost defenseman Chad Ruhwedel at the end of the first period of their 3-2 victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa at Canadian Tire Centre on Friday night. 

Unfortunately - or maybe fortunately - the Pens have had a lot of practice this season and postseason at playing with only five defensemen. So they know how to rotate through, playing both sides and with different partners. The group of five once again gutted it out with some taxing minutes to pull off the win.

The blueliner that led the charge for Pittsburgh was Olli Maatta, who skated a game-high 24:58 minutes in the contest.

"You pick up bigger minutes. It's unfortunate how often we've been doing it, but we know how to play with any of the D and each other," Maatta said. "So I don't think it's a big difference."

Maatta also scored his first career playoff goal in the contest while working off of a rush play with just 46 seconds left in the first period to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead. On the play, Maatta smartly jumped into the rush and took a pass from captain Sidney Crosby.

"You always want to jump in when (Crosby) has the puck because he can make those plays," Maatta said. "He can see people coming late."

Maatta carried the puck and fooled Senators goalie Craig Anderson into biting on a pass. Then the Finnish defenseman snapped a shot into the short side of the goal.

"Scoring a goal itself is huge. It feels awesome," said Maatta, who admitted that he doesn't have the puck as a souvenir. "I'm just happy to produce."

The play was a display of Maatta's best asset.

"I think that Olli's greatest strength is his hockey sense," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "He really reads the play extremely well and because of that he has the ability to jump into the right ice at the right time to help us offensively."

But what has impressed the coaching most about Maatta's game in the postseason has been his effort.

"I think he's been one of our most competitive players. I like his stiffness in the puck battles," Sullivan said. "He's strong down low. He can defend hard. What I've really liked about him is his competitive spirit at this point. You can tell he really wants to win."

Maatta, 22, has been playing well at both ends of the ice. He currently leads the Pens' defensive corps with a plus-6 rating, which also ranks third overall on the team. The key to his recent success is simplicity.

"Playing simple. That way you build the confidence up. It's all about consistency," Maatta said. "I have the same approach every game, it doesn't matter how last game went. In the game it doesn't matter how the last shift went, you just go to the next shift. Don't even think about it, just play."

Maatta credited defensive development coach Sergei Gonchar with helping him hone his game.

"He talks with all of us all the time on the little things, the details down low, positioning," Maatta said. "Little stuff on the ice, it helps a lot."

The Pens are currently missing their two best offensive defensemen in Kris Letang (herniated disc) and Justin Schultz (upper-body). Maatta has stepped up in their absence.

"I think he's playing with confidence with the puck," Sullivan said. "He's making good decisions. He's joining the rush when the opportunity presents itself. He's not forcing things and that's when he's at his best."

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