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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs Coverage

Defense leads to offense which leads to Penguins wins

by Mark Madden / Pittsburgh Penguins

Thursday's 3-1 Game 4 victory over Washington at PPG Paints Arena wasn't a classic Penguins performance.

The Penguins totaled just 24 shots and never hit double digits in any period. One goal was an empty-netter, and Evgeni Malkin's game-winner crept mere inches over the goal line. The usual pyrotechnics were absent.

But there's more than one way to win, especially come playoff time.

The Penguins bent defensively in the third period but never broke, allowing just three shots. They soaked up pressure, keeping the Capitals out of the danger areas. The Penguins started the period with a 2-1 lead, and Jake Guentzel sealed the deal by scoring into an empty net with 58 seconds left. Capitals' sniper Alex Ovechkin finished the game with zero shots on goal.

It wasn't a highlight-reel performance, but that was OK by defenseman Kris Letang.

"Guys did a good job blocking shots and committing defensively," Letang said. "It made it hard on their forwards.

"[We were] playing well defensively and waiting for mistakes. When you're down by a goal, sometimes you're trying stuff, and we got a couple two-on-ones. A couple good chances. We were close to putting that game in a two-goal situation."

Letang certainly did his part, playing a team high 24:34 and often controlling play with his skating, positioning and physicality.

Coach Mike Sullivan lauded his team's defensive effort: "To a man, I thought we defended hard and we made good decisions with the puck. We stayed above the attack, and the opportunities we did get were off our own defense."

Letang echoed the notion that playing good defense can quickly lead to chances at the other end.

"Guys like Sid, Geno, and [Guentzel] now, and Phil [Kessel]…when those guys play defensively, they get bigger chances," Letang said. "When you get bigger chances, guys like that will score goals. [Ovechkin], in the first few games, he was patient, he got a couple two-on-ones, and he scored some big goals for them.

"When you're a skilled player, sometimes it's good to play defensively and just wait for a mistake. You'll get glorious chances."

But Letang insists that the Penguins' style will never change much.

"We're a team that has to play a north-south game," Letang said. "We have to put the puck on net, and don't give up odd-man rushes. It's the key to our game. Even if you're down a goal, keep playing the same way."

Letang especially hopes Guentzel keeps playing the same way. The second-year winger scored 13 times in last year's playoffs, and has 10 goals in 10 games so far in this year's post-season.

"Last year, it surprised me. This year, I expected it," said Letang, smiling. "That's the mentality in our locker room. We expect always more from each other. We try to push each other. Sid tries to push Geno. Geno tries to push Sid. And it trickles down the lineup."

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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