The Pens were faced with a must-win game when they hosted Washington in Game 4 of their Second Round series at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday.
A loss and the Pens would trail rival Washington, 3-1, in the series. Meaning that they would have had to win three straight games (always a difficult task in the playoffs) against a tough opponent. And two of those wins would have to come on the road.
The Pens were able to avoid that circumstance thanks to their 3-1 victory. And they were able to even the series at 2-2 thanks to filling some of the holes in their game that had been an issue throughout the early part of this matchup.
* Starts have been an issue for Pittsburgh all season long. That blemish carried over into the postseason. The Pens surrendered the opening goal in all three of the previous contests against Washington. They dug out of a 2-0 deficit to win Game 1. But couldn't do so with a 3-0 disadvantage in Game 2.
Pittsburgh had its best start of the series in Game 4. The Pens applied pressure right from the drop of the puck, drawing a power play 70 seconds into the game. That carried over into the second period and the Pens netted the opening goal for the first time in the series.
The Pens beat themselves with poor starts in the past. This time their start gave them the chance to win.
* The Pens' power play has been their best weapon all season long. It ranked No. 1 in the NHL during the regular season (26.2%) and set a new franchise record for success rate.
However, it had been ineffective in the opening three games against Washington, going 1-for-9.
The power play looked its best this entire series in Game 4. The Pens moved the puck well, created plays, and - most importantly - scored a huge goal.
The power play gave the team momentum, instead of sapping it. If Pittsburgh can keep up the same kind of pressure in games to come, then the goals will surely come as well.
* The biggest culprit of the Pens' Game 3 loss was the amount of odd-man rushes the team surrendered. Washington had four odd-man rushes in the final 10 minutes of regulation in a 3-3 hockey game. In the playoffs. And the final rush resulted in Alex Ovechkin's game-winning tally with 1:07 left in the game.
The odd-man rushes were mostly the result of defensemen pinching in the offensive zone without sufficient aid from the forwards. Everyone did a better job in Game 4. The defensemen didn't pinch riskily without help on the backside. And when the blueliners did come down the wall, the forwards were quick to read the situation and drop back to cover the vacated spot.
The Pens worked together as a five-man unit. That was the type of discipline and smarts the team needed with which to play. And they earned the win with their efforts.
* The Pens knew what their problems were. And they said - to a man - that they would correct those mistakes. They fulfilled that promise. And the result is a trip back to the nation's capital for Game 5 Saturday with the Second Round now a best-of-three series.