Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins' 3-1 win over the Washington Capitals in Game 4.
* For a second straight game, the Pens entered the third period with a lead. And this time, they would not relinquish it. The Pens knew that this was a must-win game. They knew they couldn't go to Washington down 3-1 in the series. So they went out there and, as Evgeni Malkin said, played like it was Game 7. They dug deep and gutted out a great effort. It wasn't always pretty - the Caps pushed hard and had possession for a lot of the period. But the Pens did a tremendous job of keeping them to the outside and limited them to just three shots. Guys were leaving it all out there, with the forwards blocking shots and everyone battling to get clears. It was a solid, smart defensive effort by the whole group.
* Matt Murray responded beautifully, just like he always does when his team needs it most. I thought he was the difference in the game. He said while he felt his performance was shaky in Game 3, he felt pretty good overall, and tonight, he looked really good as the Pens netminder was sharp and steady from the drop of the puck. He was especially strong during a penalty kill in the second period, making three huge stops to keep the score tied and allow his team to take over on a power play of their own - where Malkin scored the game-winner. Murray may not have come up with the timely saves on Tuesday, but he made them all tonight.
There was a scary moment in the second period when a shot from Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov hit Murray in the collarbone/shoulder area and he went down in pain. After getting checked by Pens head athletic trainer Chris Stewart, Murray stayed in the game and locked it down the rest of the way.
* Malkin's presence has been a huge boost to the power play, which has gotten on the board in both games since he returned. That unit has come up with some beautiful goals in its day, but tonight it scored a greasy one and it was fantastic. Patric Hornqvist created his usual havoc around the net, Malkin joined the fray and ended up diving towards the crease and whacking the puck into the net. It took two official reviews to determine that it was a good goal - one to determine if it crossed the goal line and another a coach's challenge for goalie interference - but it counted.
* Jake Guentzel just keeps going. I didn't think he could top his performance from last year's playoffs, but he's somehow managed to take his game to another level and has been absolutely unstoppable so far this postseason. Guentzel scored twice to extend his point streak to eight games (9G-8A-18PTS).
After scoring 21 points (13G-8A) in 26 games last year, the second-year forward has already matched that total with 21 points (10G-11A) in 10 games this year. Guentzel is the 7th different player in NHL history to record 20-plus points during his team's first 10 games of a postseason and the 7th player in Pens history to hit 20 points two or more times, joining Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Kevin Stevens.
Oh, and only one other player in NHL history has scored 10-plus goals in each of his first two postseason appearances: Lemieux.
We're watching something truly special right now.
* The Pens got Carl Hagelin back after losing him in Game 6 of the First Round against Philadelphia to an upper-body injury, and it really helped them restore some balance throughout their lineup. While Hornqvist had been terrific playing with Guentzel and Crosby, the coaching staff decided to get the band back together. Malkin played most of the regular season with the Swedes, and started the game with them tonight. Simon moved up into the spot Hornqvist vacated, and ended up setting up Guentzel for his goal. I thought they were the Pens' best line, spending a good chunk of their shifts in the offensive zone.
* The Caps were quick on the forecheck for a lot of the game, aggressively going after the puck carrier behind the net, and the Pens struggled to break out under the pressure. While they did their best to hold onto pucks and make the right plays, sometimes they had to just throw them into the neutral zone just to get clears, where the Caps would regroup and come right back at them.
The Pens always talk about playing their game and dictating the terms. That means playing with speed, playing with pace and challenging their opponents with either puck possession or pursuit. As Pens head coach Mike Sullivan has put it, "Sometimes our best defense takes place up the ice." I would like to see more of that from the Pens moving forward.